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Never use two past tenses simultaneously Options
johnprince1980
Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010 9:10:55 PM
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I was reading the following line, and the writer said - "Never use two past tenses simultaneously." I'm not sure why it is wrong. Please advice.

"I didn't know, you were so good at dancing."

Thanks in Advance.
Jazzy
Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010 11:10:54 PM
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Besides the comma, the sentence you quoted seems fine to me. It implies that the speaker was unaware of how good of a dancer the listener was. I know about the rule of never using doube negatives in a sentence (Ex. I ain't got no dance steps). A double negative (ain't & no) negates itself, and it is usually slang. I'm unaware of the rule that says not to use two past tenses simultaneously, though. If it exists, I'm sure someone will come along and explain it!
intelfam
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 8:18:16 AM
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I wonder if the example came with more detail?
1. If one is making such a comment to someone who e.g. is showing you a photo of themselves at a "past" dance then the sentence seems correct.
2. If that someone were dancing in the present then the rule is correct and one would say IMHO "I didn't know [before] that you are so good at dancing"
FWIW
MarySM
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 8:54:10 AM
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I think you're on to something Jazzy. It sounds like they meant a double negative which becomes a positive.
Example:
As speaker who states, "I don't want nothing" really means "I want something" and that is probably not what the
speaker intended to say.
pedro
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 9:14:21 AM
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MarySM wrote:
I think you're on to something Jazzy. It sounds like they meant a double negative which becomes a positive.
Example:
As speaker who states, "I don't want nothing" really means "I want something" and that is probably not what the
speaker intended to say.



Double negatives may not convey the meaning intended. Try it with a few songs;

"You're Just Too Good To Be True.." becomes "You're Just Too Bad To Be Fake" for example and doesn't quite convey the intended message
"The More I see you, the more I want you.." could translate as "The less I see you, the less I miss you.." etc.
aerial
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 9:32:25 AM
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I have never heard of a rule that doesn't allow using two past tenses simultaneously. Just on the contrary, following the rule of Sequence of Tenses, when the main clause is in the past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause also should be in the past tense. There are two exceptions to this rule:
1. When the subordinate clause expresses a universal truth, it may be put in the present tense, even if the main clause is in the past tense.
2. When the subordinate clause comes after the comparative conjunction than, it may be put in any tense required by the context.

So, in my humble opinion, the sentense "I didn't know, you were so good at dancing.", with or without the comma, is correct.
john.hayes7
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 10:10:07 AM
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"I didn't know, you were so good at dancing."

I am not a skilled grammarian but surely the explanation is that "were" is not in the
past tense but is in the subjunctive (conditional) present tense - I think !!

I wait to stand being corrected by an expert.
MarySM
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 11:30:48 AM
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You could be correct john.hayes7. If this sentence were spoken with a tone of sarcasm it would mean that the speaker thought the dancer was not good. The same sentence spoken in a neutral tone could mean either a positive or a negative. Or the sentence could be spoken with obvious approval for the dancer’s talent and skill.

Since I am not an expert either, I await a response along with you.


nachochip
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 12:37:48 PM
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john.hayes7 wrote:


I wait to stand being corrected by an expert.


Funny it is, that even the speaker of his/her mother tongue language cannot call him/herself an expert on it.

My mother language is spanish, and I am also far from an expert in spanish. In fact, I started learning (being aware) of it when I began learning english. And now, I am learning even more of spanish by becoming a spanish language teacher! d'oh!

I am an english/spanish teacher who happens to be mexican hehe Whistle

And yes! I am also waiting to be corrected in all of the mistakes I made in this short off-topic posting of mine.

kingfisher
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 5:25:02 PM
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There is nothing wrong with the sentence aside from the comma, which needs to be removed.

There is no rule in English that you can't use past tense twice in a sentence; that is a mistake.
Clement
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 6:37:54 PM
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You're looking for fault where there is none. The sentence is fine sans the comma.
nooblet
Posted: Monday, January 18, 2010 6:51:00 PM
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As everyone else had said, the sentence is correct if you remove the comma. I'm not sure why someone would say that you're not allowed to use two past-tense verbs in the same sentence. One of the only times it is acceptable to change tense mid-sentence is when you use a conjunction word (i.e. and, but, as, because) to join two separate, independent clauses into a single sentence. I am pretty sure that if you have an independent clause paired with a dependent clause, there can (usually) be no tense change between the two.

An example of using two independent clauses with different tenses are "I was running around the track, but now I am playing a game." This can also be written as "I was running around the track. Now I am playing a game."

The sentence you are asking about has one independent clause, and a dependent clause. The most complete way to write the sentence would be "I didn't know that you were such a good dancer." The word "that" is used to introduce a dependent (or subordinate) clause stating a result, wish, purpose, reason, or cause, as stated in the 2nd definition of the conjunction form of "that" on TFD (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/that). In your example, the subordinate clause is "you were such a good dancer," which is the cause for the realization that the subject is a good dancer. In many situations, we simply drop "that" from sentences, but it is useful to put them back in when identifying clauses.

Thinking of more complicated examples, I have found situations where changing tense seems right to me, such as "I cannot believe that I did not know you were such a good dancer." I'm not sure what other situations this works on, but it seems as though when something happening currently refers to an event in the past, it is okay to change tense.
yorkiebar
Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 9:46:37 AM
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There are loads of occasions when we use 2 past tenses simulataneously; e.g. We had a great time at the BBQ. John had fish, Mary stuck to meat.
The players ran on the pitch, shouted 'hurray', then ran off again.
ksquare
Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2010 8:45:24 AM

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being good at dancing is a continuous quality or attribute of the person referred to in this statement. i didn't know you are so good at dancing would be better.
having said that, if the sentence is viewed in the past perfect form then it's correct as framed.
Chessapprentice
Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2010 10:45:49 PM
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nachochip wrote:
john.hayes7 wrote:


I wait to stand being corrected by an expert.


Funny it is, that even the speaker of his/her mother tongue language cannot call him/herself an expert on it.

My mother language is spanish, and I am also far from an expert in spanish. In fact, I started learning (being aware) of it when I began learning english. And now, I am learning even more of spanish by becoming a spanish language teacher! d'oh!

I am an english/spanish teacher who happens to be mexican hehe Whistle

And yes! I am also waiting to be corrected in all of the mistakes I made in this short off-topic posting of mine.

Yeah, man. So as you I also became, say, more conscious about the features of my mother tongue which is Portuguese only after studying English. And even more now that I'm studying Spanish. By doing it I learned the conjugations of all the three modes! (I even learn of what a mode is!) And I don't know anyone who for sure knows them perfectly, at least when it comes to my friends!

In your text, hmm, I guess it is lacking the verb "to be" after "far from". I'm not sure about that, but it would seem more natural. Perhaps the verb "to learn" after "began" conjugated into the infinitive in the phrase "In fact, I started learning (being aware) of it when I began learning english" would be more suitable. The sentence "I am learning even more of spanish by becoming a spanish language teacher!" would be more correct if rewritten as "I am learning even more of Spanish since I became a Spanish language teacher".

Oh, yeah! Definitely you've made a mistake by not writing "Spanish" and "English" with a capital letter.

The phrase "who happens to be" could be incorrect and the choice of the perfect tense instead of the simple past tense
would be more usual in the phrase "all of the mistakes I made".

But with the exception of the capital letters I'm not sure about any of these and indeed I had to do a great effort to find "imperfections" in your text. When I read it for the first time I went without problems and it seemed pretty much correct.
ksrnf
Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 6:58:47 PM
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Here's an example of where we don't use more than one past tense in the same sentence.

I had a student write 'I saw a man with a backpack came on the train and sat next to me'. Using past tense verbs seems to be correct to him as he was writing about the past. However the sentence is incorrect and should be, 'I saw a man with a backpack come on the train and sit next to me'.

Please do correct me if i'm wrong.
Marissa La Faye Isolde
Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 7:41:09 PM
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'I saw a man with a backpack come on the train and sit next to me'.

The above sentence 'sounds' wrong to me, but I have no idea why. I would say:

I saw a man with a backpack who came on the train and sat next to me.

ksrnf
Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 9:30:45 PM
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Marissa La Faye Isolde wrote:
'I saw a man with a backpack come on the train and sit next to me'.

The above sentence 'sounds' wrong to me, but I have no idea why. I would say:

I saw a man with a backpack who came on the train and sat next to me.




I agree that my above sentence is not ideal and a better sentence would be 'I saw a man with a backpack. He came on the train and sat next to me'.
The Point i want to make is that we don't use another past tense verb after 'saw' do we?

Marissa La Faye Isolde
Posted: Monday, November 26, 2012 8:28:38 AM
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This may be the rule, but if the sentence makes sense and sounds better, I just can't see how two negatives make a positive --or two past tenses make a future-- or something like that. However, I agree that making two sentences out of the one sounds even better.
Anthony Carman
Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2014 4:33:51 PM

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I think I know what they were talking about when they said never use past tense simultaneously. My 5th graders do it all the time and I am trying to find a way to fix it. An example sentence:
"He did not came." What they are trying to say is "He did not come," but they seem to overemphasize the past tense when it is not needed. I would love to find out the reason for this to help me in correcting it! My students are 95% EL Learners with Spanish as their first language.
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2014 4:41:18 PM

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Hi Anthony! Welcome to the forum!

Now, that makes sense!

I could not really believe that someone meant 'two negatives' and wrote 'two past tenses'.

I used to was thinking I understood English! Whistle Whistle
shahidmost
Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2014 5:54:30 PM

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**

It is just one simple sentence, not very much different from:

I did not know he played tennis so well.

He played here seem to mean he has been playing so well of late, that he has a proven ability to play so well, that is not time-bound; this is what he can do any time.

Then

I did not know he played so well in that match.

is also as if we are talking about any one instance of his play.

But somehow, due to some reason that I cannot pin point the

I did not know he played tennis so well.

sounds as if it means the same as:

I did not know he plays tennis so well.

I did not know you were so good at dancing. It is correct.

I did not know you danced so well. [correct]
I did not know you dance so well. [correct]

**
Ben Avenell
Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2014 10:53:23 PM

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"Instantly, we saw a beautiful girl who came to helped us."
This sentence has 3 verbs, the final verb needs to be in the present tense, right? Can anyone explain why, please?
daftpunk
Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 2:13:30 AM
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"To" is always followed by a plain (dictionary) form of the verb. "To" + plain verb form is called to-infinitival in grammar. Or to put it the other way around, with "to" we don't use a verb which is marked for tense, number or mood. It is very important to make a clear distinction between finite and non-finite clauses. Finite clauses in English are typically main clauses, where the verb is marked for tense and number, while non-finite clauses are never used as the main clause, they are always subordinate, embedded in the sentence structure. There are two types of non-finite clauses: to-infinitival and participle (-ing or -ed) clauses. As I said, they have a function within a sentence but they are not normally used as standalone sentence. If we used only finite clauses, your sentence would sound like this:

"Instantly, we saw a beautiful girl. She came and helped us."

but we normally choose to present our message in a more integrated way, which is the main contribution of non-finite clauses in the language. The sentence sounds less "choppy" if we put it the way it is done in the original sentence:

"Instantly, we saw a beautiful girl, who came to help us."


pitulush
Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 10:51:27 AM

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Anthony Carman wrote:
I think I know what they were talking about when they said never use past tense simultaneously. My 5th graders do it all the time and I am trying to find a way to fix it. An example sentence:
"He did not came." What they are trying to say is "He did not come," but they seem to overemphasize the past tense when it is not needed. I would love to find out the reason for this to help me in correcting it! My students are 95% EL Learners with Spanish as their first language.



I've noticed I do this occasionally. It might even be the most frequent mistake I make. Most of the time I become aware of it and correct myself as soon as I've said it /written it, but sometimes it escapes repeated proofreading because somehow it looks fine to me… I do it mostly when I'm really focused on what I'm trying to say, like when I find it challenging to express an idea, so I'm not paying that much attention to the grammar. Or immediately after the affirmative past tense form is used. Like this:
So you really went there? Yes, I did went there. (or No, I didn't went there) – this seems like the natural answer, changing it to "I didn't go there" requires more effort because you have to completely change the verb form. But of course, it sounds really wrong so I correct it right after.

As for the reason behind this, I don't know, maybe sometimes the auxiliary verb doesn't sound "past-tense enough" to some of us ESL learners :D It probably has something to do with conjugation of verbs in our native languages too.
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