Correct me if I'm wrong : sequence of tenses I was taught that the following sentence is correct even if I think she is beautiful still now. "I knew she was beautiful." "was" is past just because the main verb is past, and it does nothing to do with my current thought about her. But when it comes to the following sentence, the tense of the verb following "which" depends on whether the library is still the biggest in the town. "I went to the library, which is/was the biggest in my town, and met her there" This is not where the sequence of the tense works. * My question is mainly about the content itself, but I also appreciate if you correct any unnatural expressions above.
Oct 21, 2021 11:04 AM
Answers · 10
Native English Speaker here. “ I knew she was beautiful.” Can both refer to an event in the past, as in an understanding that she ‘was’ beautiful. But this state can also be ongoing as had been suggested to you - so you still believe it to be true. But upon first reading this, I see it as an example of discovery. As in some event has caused the speaker to newly discover that she was beautiful, so now they are commenting on the fact as if they already had a suspicion that she was/is indeed beautiful. In the second example, you are technically correct, that the library ‘may’ no longer be the largest if there ‘was’ tense is used as opposed to the ‘is’ tense. however, if the ‘was’ tense is used, it can still be colloquially understood that the library is indeed still the largest in the town. The tense here does not necessarily apply to natural speech as absolute.
October 21, 2021
Sezme gave an excellent answer.
October 21, 2021
"I knew she was beautiful." - here it implies she 'was' beautiful then, but not necessarily now (perhaps she has aged or changed and isn't as beautiful now). We could also say: I knew she is beautiful - in this case, she would definitely still be considered beautiful now. I went to the library, which is the biggest in my town, and met her there. Here, 'is' would imply it still is the biggest now. I went to the library, which was the biggest in my town, and met her there - Here 'was' would imply it was the biggest in the past, but isn't necessarily still the biggest (perhaps a bigger library has been built since then).
October 21, 2021
This one is tricky! I think it kind of depends upon whether we reference the present and how long ago the past feels, while we're telling a story set in the past. So... "Yesterday I went to the library, which is the biggest building in town, and met my friend." [If we say "was" here, it does sound odd because by using "yesterday" we're putting this past in reference to the present. And also, because yesterday is very recent, we won't expect thing will have changed since then. If we start that sentence with "20 years ago"... we still reference the present, but now it's likely that things have changed in that time, so it feels natural to use "was". This doesn't necessarily mean that it's no longer the biggest building. But if we want to be clear that things have changed, we could include "at the time." Or we could say, "was and still is..." to indicate that things haven't changed. In a story set entirely in the past with no reference to the present, we'd normally (but not necessarily) use "was". "In 2015, I went to the library, which was the biggest building in town, and met my friend." [Using "is" not only relates the story to the present, but also to reality. So if we used "is" in a fictional story in this case, it would make the story seem somehow more real, or at least it would seem that the narrator believes it to be real.] As I said, tricky!
October 21, 2021
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