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I didn't know he was/is a marine

Discussion in 'English Only' started by iamconfused, Jan 8, 2013.

  1. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese
    Hi all. Please help me with this. Imagine I see someone on a street and he says that his son is a marine. Which one of the following sentences is grammatically correct for my response:

    1) I didn't know he was a marine.
    or
    2) I didn't know he is a marine.

    And another scenario: I just saw the news regarding kangaroos and I turn to my friend and say the following sentence. Which one is correct:

    1) I didn't know that a kangaroo licked its limb was a sign of stress. (as like in a reported speech)
    or
    2) I didn't know that a kangaroo licked its limb is a sign of stress. (as this is a general behaviour of a kangaroo in distress)

    Please explain your answer as I am confused. When do <you> use a past tense, was, when someone or something is still happening/existing? How about reported speech where it uses the past tense to report something that is still happening or still as it is? Please explain to me and give me some examples to help me understand this. Thank you very much.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  2. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    These are the facts as I see them.

    1) I didn't know he was a marine. :tick:

    1)' I didn't know that when a kangaroo licked its limb it was a sign of stress. :tick:

    1)'' I didn't know that a kangaroo licking its limb was a sign of stress. :tick:
     
  3. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    I think if the first verb is past tense (did know), the second one should be past as well (was). Since this is a negative form of the simple past tense (didn't know), it's more complicated. (Sorry, but I'm not sure how.)

    Here's a past thread that mey be helpful: didn't know... was/is

    Of course, once a marine, always a marine. ☺

    cross-posted
     
  4. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    There is some justification for considering (2) to be correct but I would always choose (1)

    A. The sentence "I didn't know he was a marine until you told me" requires it.

    B. Even though you told me 5 minutes ago, it is possible that he has ceased to be a marine in the mean time.
     
  5. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Haha! Yes there is always that! :D
     
  6. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese

    Firstly, thank you all for responding.

    Hi Beryl, Could you please explain why you chose the above answers? No offense but I just need some explanation to understand how to apply it in future. Why is the sentence "I didn't know he is a marine" not acceptable or correct as he is presently still a marine. As for the second sentence "I didn't know that when a kangaroo licked its limb it was a sign of stress", can it be present tense "is" as this is a general fact about kangaroos? Please advise me. You could show me some examples. That could help me a lot. Thank you.
     
  7. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    >>No offense but I just need some explanation to understand how to apply it in future.

    I have a feeling future is more complicated, so first try to get a handle on past.

    I looked around because I admit I didn't think my first response was very helpful. What I found was somewhat disheartening. There's all this stuff about what the speaker knows at the moment he says it and what is true now and what may be true but could possibly be false and …

    I can get along in English pretty well in my sleep, but my head just spins when I try to understand all this. So let me try just repeating what I said before:

    if the first verb is past tense, the second one should be past as well

    This seems to apply to both military service and nervous kangaroos. You should be okay using this rule. I suggest slowly wading into the exciting world of exceptions to it.

    A question comes to mind, and I hope this isn't off-topic: how do you say these things in your native language? You may take some encouragement from the fact that if this were a forum for learning to speak Chinese, my username would be imVERYconfused.
     
  8. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese

    Sorry gramman, I meant to say to be able to apply or use it correctly in the future or next time.




    That;s the problem, gramman. I tried to follow this rule that if the first verb is past tense, the second one should be past as well, but I get to read from other places, such as news articles, with sentences not following this rule like this one below:

    - Scientists and broadcasters said Monday they have captured footage of an elusive giant squid roaming the depths of the Pacific Ocean, showing it in its natural habitat for the first time ever.

    In the above sentence, the first verb "said" is past tense but the second verb "have" is present tense. Please explain and advise me on this one. Thank you.
     
  9. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    "Have" is a truly wonderful word for those working to learn the English language. Check out the right-hand column in this definition from Macmillan. Memorize all that and get back to us tomorrow. Just kidding. ;)

    Focus for now on that first part:
    That's what you have here: have captured.

    Here's another page of stuff that I'm glad I'm not looking to absorb: Sequence of Verb Tenses, from the Capital Community College Foundation's Guide to Grammar and Writing.

    The good news is there are a lot of people here willing to help you along. Some of them, myself not included, even know what they're talking about. ☺
     
  10. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    No offence taken. Your question is entirely reasonable. I posted no supportive argumentation because I don't know of any that I would find convincing.

    >Why is the sentence "I didn't know he is a marine" not acceptable or correct as he is presently still a marine?

    I'm afraid I don't have an answer that involves the mind, but only one that involves the ear: it just sounds wrong.
    The main problem with that claim, is that it only takes one person to blow it out the water by saying 'well, it sounds okay to me', and then that one person is at liberty to re-ask your unanswerable question, and then it's 'game over'. And although I suspect that the numbers are in my favour, I've no way of bringing those to bear here either.

    I think that the general rule for these is that 'past follows past', as I said in the older thread that gramman linked to above.

    'I didn't know he was a Marine' sounds right to me despite my knowing that he's a Marine at the time of utterance.

    'I didn't know he was called Dave' is what I might utter in astonishment immediately upon learning that his name is Dave. 'I didn't know he was called Dave; I've always known him as Debussy.'

    I suppose you should know that there's a class of (optional?) exceptions, which I think splits into two, one concerning habitual behaviour, and the other concerning matters of so called indisputable truths (there may be others, but I can't think of one off the top of my head).

    'I didn't know that he goes to work by train.' (habitual) ............. though I would use 'went to work'

    'I didn't know that three twos are six.' (truth eternal) ............... I might be tempted by this one for various reasons (but primarily this: Danny Kaye and his 'Inchworm').

    So you see, there may be some hope for your kangaroo with its anxiety disorder; hope which could come via either of the two exceptional routes, though I don't think I'll be granting its safe passage.

    It being clear you've read up on this, iamconfused, I won't labour the point any further.

    "2) 'I didn't know that a kangaroo licking its limb is a sign of stress.' (as this is a general behaviour of a kangaroo in distress)"

    For some this is indeed arguable, and thus the use of the present acceptable. It's either habitual, or it's taken to be a matter of fact, and whilst I wouldn't dispute either of those descriptions, I would never use 'is' in that sentence - it repels the mind. You'd probably be better off listening to someone less partisan than me. (Cross-posted)
     
  11. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    Hi again, not-nearly-as-confused-as-you-may-think

    Check out the two posts by Gary T in this thread: Yet another grammar question -- verb agreement. I should credit Copyright for prompting me to reread it. I skimmed over Gary's posts and then got confused by the ones at the end, and so lost interest. Gary may be answering this question quite effectively.

    (Note that you're not the first person to use the Marine Corps to make a point. Well, that's obvious, but this one, like yours, is about tense agreement rather than tense disagreements that get out of hand. :eek: And also note that my joke about there not being any ex-marines was stolen by Munch … more than three years ago! As Freud or somebody said, there are no new jokes. :idea: )

    I should say that I really do admire you and others in this community for your efforts to learn this complex but rewarding language, attributes that, from what I understand, are derived from its absorption of lots of other languages. So please don't mistake my clumsy wording and lame attempts at humour as disparaging. As Beryl observed, it's "clear you've read up on this."
     
  12. sharonox New Member

    english - new zealand
    scientists and broadcasters said Monday they have captured .... if 'had' was used in this sentence it means it could have happened a long long time ago... but using 'have' means that it very recently happened....
    I didn't know he was a marine...
    Because from a point in the past up till now you were not aware he was a marine, and
    from a point in the past up till now he has been a marine (and still is).
    If he wasn't a marine anymore I wouldn't say " I didn't know he was a marine", but "I didn't know he used to be a marine".
     
  13. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    In another thread about this sort of thing, I came to the conclusion that it is a matter of focus. I said we usually use tense agreement, and someone gave me numerous examples where a present tense was used after a past main verb. Here's what I concluded from those. If your focus is on the main clause part, 'I didn't know', 'They said', 'She told me', use tense agreement. As 'I didn't know' is always about my not knowing, we always use tense agreement after it. (With maybe exceptions for eternal truths like water boiling and the earth orbiting the sun.) With verbs like 'say', it's different. We can imagine two foci of interest:

    Scientists said on Monday they had captured film of a giant squid. [Scientists said something on Monday. What they said is of some interest, and here it is.]

    Scientists said on Monday they have captured film of a giant squid. [They have captured film of a giant squid. And here's how I know: scientists said it.]

    I'm exaggerating the difference to bring it out. The basic rule is: use tense agreement. You can always use tense agreement. If in doubt, don't try to understand when you do and when you don't use it, just always use it. I'm not putting forward a rule, I'm explaining the occasional exception ('have') to the rule.
     
  14. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese
    Thank you so much, Beryl, for taking the effort to explain to me. I'll try to digest what you just said. But what about the below sentence which doesn't follow the 'past follows past' rule?

    - Scientists and broadcasters said Monday they have captured footage of an elusive giant squid roaming the depths of the Pacific Ocean, showing it in its natural habitat for the first time ever.


    What do you think of the above sentence which doesn't follow the "past follows past" rule? Why is the past tense "said" be followed by a present perfect tense "have captured"? If the sentence were to follow the 'past follows past' rule, shouldn't the "have captured" be changed to "had captured"? Is this acceptable or what? I have seen many such sentences in news articles and I don't know if it's right. I would really love to hear your opinion on this? If you could also explain this to me, that would be great. If you don't, I still appreciate the time and effort you had given me. Thank you, Beryl!
     
  15. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese
    Thank you so much, gramman. There is so much you sent me to read. Anyway, I'll just take my time to read and hopefully digest it. Hope I could get back to you again on this topic if I do not understand any part of what I read. Thanks gramman!
     
  16. iamconfused Junior Member

    chinese
    Thank you so much for responding, entangledbank. To be honestly, I still don't quite understand why with verbs like 'say', it's different. I'm sorry. Hope you don't take offence for my lack of understanding after what you had explained to me. Thanks anyway!
     
  17. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I must admit that I was becoming very confused despite being a native speaker. Sometimes natural language doesn't stand up to rigorous logical analysis and so I think that eb's rule of thumb is a good one.

    Despite that, I'd like to try again with logic for my own benefit! I think that using adverbs of time might clear things up. Here is my argument:

    1. Eternal truths don't exist in my book. Perhaps the only indisputable truth is Descartes' "I think therefore I am" and that isn't eternal as far as I know. For example, in a dream last night, I 'knew' that I could fly simply by willing myself off the ground: It was true and I could experience the fact. Today I 'know' something different.
    2. If we accept (1) then it all becomes clear. If we add adverbs of time, it is nonsense to say "I didn't know then that he is a marine now." All that I knew then was that he was a marine then. I had no knowledge of his future - not even one or two seconds into the future.
    3. Even if we did know then that he is a marine now we would have to say "Really? I didn't know [then] that he would be a marine [now]."

    So in terms of both logic and usage I personally am satisfied that eb's rule is a good one.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  18. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Why should the tenses be in agreement?

    What I was taught in junior school was this: 'I said' or 'he thought' and similar verbs are expressing an idea that was in someone's mind in the past. Therefore it can only be referring to past knowledge or belief. This is so even if the objective state of affairs is still true now. To show that the state of mind was past we say 'I found out that he was a marine' and not 'I found out that he is a marine'.

    Another way to look at it is to think of present context versus past context.
    The simple past tense places a past event in a past context. The present perfect places a past event in a present context.
    Therefore when past context is appropriate we say 'I found out that he was a marine' and when present context is appropriate we say 'I have found out that he is a marine'.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  19. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Yes that is what I was trying to say but put more clearly. :):thumbsup:
     
  20. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    >>It was true and I could experience the fact

    Dreams? If this is allowed, I'll just have to give up! ☺

    Many years ago, I had a dream that a Leibnizian monad spoke to me, saying "Two and two make five because your alarm clock is broken and you'll be late for work." It's hidden meaning has haunted me ever since.
     
  21. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I agree with both Biffo and Wandle. While "I didn't know he was a marine" (I'd cap Marine, by the way) is the usual way to say this, I don't see much wrong with "I didn't know he is a Marine" either. The first is the way I'd ordinarily say it because it basically means "I was not aware (in the past) that he was a Marine (in the past), but now I know differently." This construction can be used if he was a Marine in 1945 or was a Marine right up until 60 seconds ago and probably still is now.

    But if I was for some reason emphasizing that he is still a Marine now, "is" is the verb I'd choose.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013
  22. SevenDays Senior Member

    Spanish
    What's interesting (or not) is that tense agreement refers to the temporal relationship of verbs in a sentence: when the main verb is in past tense, the subordinate verb is also in past tense. Tense, then, is a linguistic concept; it is the grammatical representation of "time," and it is internal (confined within the structure of the sentence). But that is not the "time" of Einstein or Newton. In the "time" of physics, the speaker is situated in the present, and from that perspective (external, not confined to grammatical boundaries), "is a Marine" simply reflects his current status. The two "times" (grammatical and physics) do not have to agree, and are not in conflict if they don't, which is why we can say I didn't know that he is a Marine.
     

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