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    #1

    Were or are? It's a question.

    The Swedes were the first to recognize the public officials like civil servants, police officers, health inspectors or tax-collectors can make mistakes ...

    New Concept English Book 3, Lesson 53
    Would the use of are, in stead of were, in the quoted sentence be corrent? There are several thoughts in my mind and I don't know which one is correct.

    Theory One:

    Were and are can both be used here.

    As I've seem many times before, the acid test as to the choice of the two tenses is whether the state or action still continues at the moment.

    Since they already were the first people to do so, it can be very convinently deducted that that's still the case for the time being, unless newly emerged evidence proves it wrong. In other words, the sentence can be rewritten as following:

    The Swede were considered as the first ...

    The Swede are considered as the first ...

    They show different aspects of the same thing and both work in this case.

    Theory Two:

    Only were is grammatical here. Here The Swedes astually refers to those who made the very first effort in the world to step forward and recognize the fact, but not the people who have the citizenship of Sweden. We are talking about dead people here and obviously only past tenses are possible, for they can't go back to life and do it again.

    I thought that I knew the answer, but now I am very confused. What would you make of this question?

    Many thanks

    Richard

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    Quote Originally Posted by cubezero3 View Post
    Would the use of are, in stead of were, in the quoted sentence be corrent? There are several thoughts in my mind and I don't know which one is correct.

    No. Only "were" is right.

    Theory One:

    Were and are can both be used here.

    As I've seem many times before, the acid test as to the choice of the two tenses is whether the state or action still continues at the moment.

    Perhaps. The action is this case, the verb, is "recognize". Even though they still believe it, they are not still recognizing it. The recognition occurred in the past.

    Since they already were the first people to do so, [exactly; not "are"] it can be very convinently deducted that that's still the case for the time being, unless newly emerged evidence proves it wrong. In other words, the sentence can be rewritten as following:

    The Swede were considered as the first ... No, you've changed the verb. This is different proposition. People still consider that the Swedes were the first to recognise it.

    The Swede are considered as the first ...

    They show different aspects of the same thing and both work in this case.
    Sure, but they introduce a new statement - about what people consider/ed, not about what Swedes first recognised.

    Theory Two:

    Only were is grammatical here. Here The Swedes astually refers to those who made the very first effort in the world to step forward and recognize the fact, but not the people who have the citizenship of Sweden. We are talking about dead people here and obviously only past tenses are possible, for they can't go back to life and do it again.
    You seem to realise here that the recognition ocurred in the past.
    R.

  2. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    The realization is in the past, so only "were" works with your original sentence.

    You state it as a fact. There is no one thinking this is so, considering it to be true, etc. It's simply a fact that they were first.

    With your change, adding "considered," you've changed a lot. If you write that they "are considered to be the first to realize" you mean that they are NOW considered (by whom, you don't say) to have been the first to realize it (in the past).

    If you say that they "were considered to be the first" it could sound like new evidence has come to light showing others were actually the first, and so therefore the Swedes are no longer considered the first.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. euncu's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    I'd like to ask a follow-up question. Now that "were" is the correct option, why isn't the sentence as the following?;

    The Swedes were the first to have recognized the public officials like civil servants, police officers, health inspectors or tax-collectors could make mistakes ...

    Thanks for your answers in advance.

  4. Raymott's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    Quote Originally Posted by euncu View Post
    I'd like to ask a follow-up question. Now that "were" is the correct option, why isn't the sentence as the following?;

    The Swedes were the first to have recognized the public officials like civil servants, police officers, health inspectors or tax-collectors could make mistakes ...

    Thanks for your answers in advance.
    Because in most cases, as a logical implication, the first person to do something becomes the first person to have done that thing.

  5. euncu's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Because in most cases, as a logical implication, the first person to do something becomes the first person to have done that thing.
    Well, I've failed to get your logical implication. Do you mean that if we have an auxiliary verb in past tense, we don't need to backshift the rest of the sentence?

    Thanks for your further clarification in advance.

  6. Raymott's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Were or are? It's a question.

    Quote Originally Posted by euncu View Post
    Well, I've failed to get your logical implication. Do you mean that if we have an auxiliary verb in past tense, we don't need to backshift the rest of the sentence?

    Thanks for your further clarification in advance.
    No, I wasn't talking about grammar or linguistics.
    You can use either tense in this situation.

    Do you not see the logical implication that if you are the first person to do something, then in the future, you will be the first person to have done it, and people could say, without fear of contradiction, "euncu was the first person to do it; he was the first person who did it, and he was the first person to have done it"?

    But to your implicit question: No, you don't have to backshift in a sentence such as "euncu was the first person to do it." 'To do it' is non-finite, and tenseless.
    So while either tense can be used in the original case, generally you wouldn't backshift here.
    "What caused you to do that?" Normal.
    NOT "What caused you to have done that?" This would only be used if the perfect tense was called for - similar rules to when you'd choose the past perfect over the simple past.

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