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Q. Joe told his friend that his brother _____ him with his homework.

A. Helps

B. Was helping



My textbook has B as the answer. However, I feel it should be A as it appears to be a habit in this sentence. Because the direct speech would naturally be ‘My brother helps me with my homework’ rather than ‘My brother is helping me with my homework’ as there is no time mentioned.



Is my reasoning logical?

Original Post

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If there's no context to this sentence, then it can be about both a habit and an action in progress.

However, due to the fact its reported speech, you are supposed to change present tense into past tense, hence answer B is correct because the other answer would have to be in the past tense (Joe told his friend that his brother HELPED him with his homework).

@englishnerd posted:

Q. Joe told his friend that his brother _____ him with his homework.

A. Helps
B. Was helping

@Former Member posted:

. . . due to the fact its reported speech, you are supposed to change present tense into past tense, hence answer B is correct because the other answer would have to be in the past tense (Joe told his friend that his brother HELPED him with his homework).

Both answers are correct. It's strange that the maker(s) of the exercise made the choices "helps" vs. "was helping" rather than "helps" vs. "helped" or "is helping" vs. "was helping," but all four options are correct if it is true at the time of speech that Joe's brother continues to help Joe with his homework. There is need to backshift the tense in that case, though it is very natural to do so.

Last edited by David, Moderator

There's a quite peculiar rule in English about tense consisitency in a clause, which says that you should keep all the verbs in a clause in the same tense - thats why it's completely natural to say in English, for example, "Mary said she liked me," even though it's obvious that Mary still likes me. And I think the objective of this excersice might have been to make its doers aware of this rule.

But yeah, I've read that if you want to be precise, you need not follow this tense consistency rule, and it's still correct grammar.

Last edited by Former Member
@Former Member posted:

There's a quite peculiar rule in English about tense consisitency in a clause, which says that you should keep all the verbs in a clause in the same tense - thats why it's completely natural to say in English, for example, "Mary said she liked me," even though it's obvious that Mary still likes me.

Tenses need not be kept the same in a clause:

  • Mary liked me then, still likes me now, and will like me in the future.

What happens in reported speech where the reporting verb is in the past tense is that the tenses in the clause of reported speech are naturally relativized in English to fall within the scope of the past-tense reporting verb, even when what is spoken of in the past tense still applies to the present.

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