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    #1

    Post use present or past tense?

    Dear teachers,
    A few days ago, at the supermarket I met Jenny, her father Mr.Brown and an elder person whom I didn't know. Now I'm talking to my friend, Mary, on the phone, (please tell me the correct be-verb I should use, is there any grammar rules for this kind of situation? thank you!)
    ...
    Mary : Who was Mr.Brown? ( should Mary use 'is' or 'was'? )
    I : He is Jenny's father. ( 'is' correct? )
    Mary : Who was that old man? ( use 'is' or 'was'? )
    I : I guess he was Jenny's grandfather. ( 'is' or 'was'? )
    ...

    ps, I asked similar questions a few days ago, and I'm thankful for Teia, bhaisahab and Searching for language for your answers, but I think I need some general rules.

  1. kfredson's Avatar

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    #2

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heidi View Post
    Dear teachers,
    A few days ago, at the supermarket I met Jenny, her father Mr.Brown and an elder person whom I didn't know. Now I'm talking to my friend, Mary, on the phone, (please tell me the correct be-verb I should use, is there any grammar rules for this kind of situation? thank you!)
    ...
    Mary : Who was Mr.Brown? ( should Mary use 'is' or 'was'? )
    Normally we would use "is," unless the person has died!

    I : He is Jenny's father. ( 'is' correct? )
    Correct

    Mary : Who was that old man? ( use 'is' or 'was'? )
    Now, this is a puzzle. You might hear people use either one and no one (I would guess) would think it strange. I hadn't thought of it before (and I doubt there is any rule) but when pointing to some person whose name or family connection (Mr. Brown) you don't know, we often use the past tense.

    I : I guess he was Jenny's grandfather. ( 'is' or 'was'? )
    ... No. Now that you have identified the person you would ordinarily use "is" -- unless, once again, he has died in the meantime.

    ps, I asked similar questions a few days ago, and I'm thankful for Teia, bhaisahab and Searching for language for your answers, but I think I need some general rules.
    Perhaps someone else can point to the rules involved.

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    #3

    Post Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by kfredson View Post
    Perhaps someone else can point to the rules involved.
    when pointing to some person whose name or family connection (Mr. Brown) you don't know, we often use the past tense.
    Dear kfredson,
    If now I'm chating with my friend Jenny, and I see a boy waving at Jenny, so I ask Jenny, "who was that boy?" ----Is it correct?

  2. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heidi View Post
    Dear kfredson,
    If now I'm chating with my friend Jenny, and I see a boy waving at Jenny, so I ask Jenny, "who was that boy?" ----Is it correct?
    If the boy is still there waving when you say it, you should use "is", if he has walked on, use "was".

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    #5

    Re: use present or past tense?

    I don't know the answer to this, but I will have a try.

    I think the present tense sounds better when the individual is introduced by a proper noun (name), and the past when he / she is introduced by a definite description ("the", etc.).

    Why? I think this may be because a name has a reference independently of the situation described (so it is natural to talk about them in the present as long as they are assumed to still exist), while a definite description takes its reference from the situation (or at least a situation). In a sense, the individual in this case is only considered as part of the situation (the old man who you met, the boy who was waving). So if the situation is in the past, the individual is talked about in the past tense.

    As I say I am only guessing, and would be interested to hear other ideas.

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    #6

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    If the boy is still there waving when you say it, you should use "is", if he has walked on, use "was".
    Dear bhaisahab,
    Right now, I'm talking to Jenny on the phone,
    I: Who was that boy you were talking to this morning? He was cute!
    Jenny: Uh...
    I: Don't tell me! I guess he is your boyfriend!
    ----------------------
    Have I used the correct be verbs? Thanks!

  3. kfredson's Avatar

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    #7

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Thank you, Orangutan. I think you may are heading in the right direction with this. Most useful, indeed.

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    #8

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by orangutan View Post
    I don't know the answer to this, but I will have a try.

    I think the present tense sounds better when the individual is introduced by a proper noun (name), and the past when he / she is introduced by a definite description ("the", etc.).

    Why? I think this may be because a name has a reference independently of the situation described (so it is natural to talk about them in the present as long as they are assumed to still exist), while a definite description takes its reference from the situation (or at least a situation). In a sense, the individual in this case is only considered as part of the situation (the old man who you met, the boy who was waving). So if the situation is in the past, the individual is talked about in the past tense.

    As I say I am only guessing, and would be interested to hear other ideas.
    Right now, I'm talking to Jenny on the phone,
    I: Who was that boy you were talking to this morning? He was cute!
    Jenny: Uh...
    I: Don't tell me! I guess he was your boyfriend!
    ----------------------
    Have I used the correct be verbs? Thanks!

  4. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heidi View Post
    Dear bhaisahab,
    Right now, I'm talking to Jenny on the phone,
    I: Who was that boy you were talking to this morning? He was cute!
    Jenny: Uh...
    I: Don't tell me! I guess he is your boyfriend!
    ----------------------
    Have I used the correct be verbs? Thanks!
    Yes, that's fine.

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    #10

    Re: use present or past tense?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heidi View Post
    Dear teachers,
    A few days ago, at the supermarket I met Jenny, her father Mr.Brown and an elder person whom I didn't know. Now I'm talking to my friend, Mary, on the phone, (please tell me the correct be-verb I should use, is there any grammar rules for this kind of situation? thank you!)
    ...
    Mary : Who was Mr.Brown? ( should Mary use 'is' or 'was'? )
    I : He is Jenny's father. ( 'is' correct? )
    Mary : Who was that old man? ( use 'is' or 'was'? )
    I : I guess he was Jenny's grandfather. ( 'is' or 'was'? )
    ...

    ps, I asked similar questions a few days ago, and I'm thankful for Teia, bhaisahab and Searching for language for your answers, but I think I need some general rules.
    ***NOT A TEACHER***Thank you, Heidi, for making us native speakers think about this. After carefully reading this great thread and consulting other sources, I -- for one -- have learned the following: (1) There is NO "rule." (2) Native speakers will DIFFER. (3) Generally speaking, however, it might be helpful to use the present tense if the situation is still VALID. (Who is Mr. Brown? / He is Jenny's father/ I guess he is your boyfriend/ He is cute. Heidi preferred "He was cute." Many native speakers agree with her. Other native speakers prefer "is" because they feel the boy is still in "mental sight." ) (4) As one poster brilliantly pointed out, use the past tense if you are thinking primarily of the SITUATION BACK THEN (Who was that old man?) P.S. Please don't call us "old men." We prefer "senior citizen"!!!

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