Submitted by Dyske  •  February 5, 2003

Matching the tense

“I argued that McDonald’s is good for you.”

Should it be:

“I argued that McDonald’s was good for you.”

Do I need to match the tense between “argued” and “Is” or “was”?

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Much of what's posted here has to do with idiom, not necessarily with what is colloquial as opposed to formal.

American idiom, New Zealand idiom, Australian idiom, Canadian idiom.... All are different and make learning English especially difficult for those for whom English is not their native tonge. (Not to mention regional idiom within a country or that English usage may change faster than we can keep up with.)

Consider, too, that English is no respecter of logic. Listen to a child learning the language. A child will learn the "rules" for regular verbs long before she learns how to use even a few of the irregular verbs. My grandson Alec is five years old and consistently uses constructions such as "I hitted the ball" rather than "I hit the ball." He'll eventually learn what's "right" but it will take quite a while.

Nima Arian is not exactly wrong, but is a bit inflexible. Teresa Nielsen Hayde is right. killy is partially right, and posts instructively; however, killy slips up and misuses "it's" for "its." That may well be the most common mistake made in English. Another poster joins me in nitpicking by pointing out killy's mistaking a clause for a phrase.

"It's" is a contraction for "It is." "Its" is the possessive of "it." There's no such construction as "its,'" but I've seen it in print more than once. (Note that I use the American typographers' convention of putting quotes after periods and commas. Not because it makes sense or is logical, but because typographers think their convention looks "prettier." Beauty must be more important to American typographers than making sense.)

To be a real nitpicker, even the estimable TNH is not exactly right. "Continual" would probably be a better word to use than "continuous." Best of all might be to say "a continuing state." No doubt what I've written could be nitpicked, too. Please don't bother.

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I declare that McDonald's is bad for you!

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As I know, the point of view must be maintained in sentences. Therefore, "I argued that McDonald's was good for you," is a better option.

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The sentences is ambigous so both sentences are possible as written.

1) He argued smoking is bad for you.
2) He argued smoking was bad for you.

Both are correctly written,
But #1 means smoking is bad for you and still is.
While #2 means smoking was bad for you in the past, and this may or may not still be true.

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It's "is" because it's a general statement about a continuous ongoing state of affairs: "My teacher explained why the sky is blue."

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Yes.

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Hi Ian L,

I'm confused.

Since I am NOT focused on when McD is good, are you suggesting that I write: "I argued that McDonald's was good for you."

But then, I do mean to say that it is universally true, in which case you say the tenses do not have to match.

If I am not focused on WHEN, that makes it more universal (not specific to any point in time). For instance:

I argued that stealing is bad.

Here naturally I mean to say it is bad universally, not now, not then, but always. Thus it is a universal statement, and (therefore) it does not focus on WHEN.

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Eric Patridge (a grammarian) says they should match unless the embedded clause is meant to mark something as true universally, or mark it as true at the time of speaking. So if the argument does not focus on WHEN McDonald's is good, then match the tenses.

As a side note, the phrase '...that McD is good for you' is an embedded (or complement) clause, or what linguists call a 'complementizer phrase,' not a 'noun phrase'; the verb 'argue' cannot take a noun phrase to be its complement. One can argue 'that McD is good,' but not 'the goodness of McD.'

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you win :)

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actually, you don't NEED to match the tenses at all. the sentence can be broken down:

"I argued <something>"

I is your subject

argued is your verb

the phrase '...that McD is/was/has been/will never be good for you.' is a 'noun phrase' and has it's own tense (so to speak)

it truly depends on waht you want to say:

I argued that McDonald's is good for you
I argued that McDonald's was good for you
I argued that McDonald's will never be good for you
I argued that McDonald's has been good for you
I argued that McDonald's hasn't been good for you
I argued that McDonald's is good for you


you see?

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I believe it should be "Is" since you are arguing for something that still exists. If you said "was," then the current McDonalds is not good for you. What you DID was argue, what you argued for is whether or not McDonald's is good. It's bad though :)

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