She asked what my grandmother's maiden name is/was.

Couch Tomato

Senior Member
Russian & Dutch
Report these questions using a wh-, if- or whether-clause, as appropriate. Make any necessary changes to vebr tense, pronouncs, etc.
[...]
12. 'What was your grandmother's maiden name?' She asked what my grandmother's maiden name
is/was.
(Advanced Grammar in Use (2nd edition), Martin Hewings)

According to the book, we should use "was", but why doesn't "is" work as well? Is it because in the question it is implied that the grandmother is dead? In other examples both tenses seem to be possible.

Thank you in advance?
 
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  • Fern_

    Senior Member
    English - British
    As your 'maiden' name is your name before marriage, the assumption is that your grandmother changed her name when she got married, so the name is past anyway, even if your grandmother is still alive.
     

    Embonpoint

    Senior Member
    English--American
    If my grandmother is dead, I would always use past tense. If she is alive, it seems most logical to me to use present tense but it is also acceptable to use past tense. Many people use past tense in this case because of the sentiment that the name is no longer being used. But thinking strictly logically it is still your maiden name (present tense) even if you no longer use it!

    My credit card company routinely asks me, "What is your mother's maiden name?"
     

    Embonpoint

    Senior Member
    English--American
    By the way you should fix the typos in maiden in the headline and in your first post. It may confuse people who are new to the language!
     

    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Your sentence is similar to "I asked her where her house was/is" or "I told her where my house was/is". 'Was' is more common is such sentences because the verb in the main clause is past tense. However, if the situation described in the subordinate clause is still valid, it is often possible to use present tense. For non-native speakers of English it is probably safer just to use past tense.

    Your sentence with 'is' sounds a bit strange to me. "What is your grandmother's maiden name?" also sounds a little strange. "What is your mother's maiden name?" does not sound strange.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I am going to have to disagree with Neal - both "What is your grandmother's maiden name?" and "What was your grandmother's maiden name?" sound perfectly fine to me. I've been married for more than 20 years, but my maiden name is still my maiden name. In fact, I didn't have a maiden name until I married - all I had was a "name" or perhaps a "birth name." Therefore, "what is?" makes perfect sense. On the other hand, I've been married a long time now and I was born even longer ago than that, so "what was?" also makes sense. Both therefore sound fine to me, and the choice as to which depends entirely on one's point of view.

    The only time I can think of that I would definitely say one was right and the other was wrong is in reference to someone who is deceased, such as my grandmothers. In their cases, I'd say that "What was their maiden names?" is the correct and idiomatic choice.

    (Edit: Actually, I guess it would be "What were their maiden names?" Sorry - blame the editor, who is me!)
     
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    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The only time I can think of that I would definitely say one was right and the other was wrong is in reference to someone who is deceased, such as my grandmothers. In their cases, I'd say that "What was their maiden names?" is the correct and idiomatic choice.
    I agree. My own grandmothers have been dead for a long time.
     
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