Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Suppose you are John's brother, and I talked with you several days ago. I knew that when I talked with you. Now I'm meeting with you again and want to tell you I knew then that you are John's brother. Which of (1) or (2) should I say?

  1. I knew you are John's brother
  2. I knew you were John's brother
share|improve this question
    
Question wasn't clear and I edited it. Edit it further as you wish –  jwpat7 Mar 16 '13 at 4:54
    
That's nice editing:) –  phil Mar 16 '13 at 5:06
    
It reminds me this: I knew you were trouble - by Taylor Swift –  zwangxian Mar 16 '13 at 9:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If the first part is in the past, then the second part has to be, too. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.

I knew you were John’s brother when first I saw you.

That doesn’t mean you’re no longer John’s brother. It’s just how these things work.

share|improve this answer
    
You are the author of programming perl? That's cool! I am learning C# and java, I guess I've bought some other O'Reilly books, I can't quite remember though. Maybe one of them is also written by you, haha! –  phil Mar 16 '13 at 5:05
    
This part about not mixing tenses is generally true, though a few exceptions are possible, like, "Right after we spoke, ten minutes later, I realized you are John's brother." (I can't figure out why using "realized" seems less problematic than using "knew".) However, some might say that sentence is mispunctuated: "Right after we spoke, ten minutes later, I realized – you are John's brother." I also found this in a book: When I was unconscious I had a vision .. I've had that same vision many times since then. It wasn't until today that I realized you are the woman. but that form seems rare. –  J.R. Mar 16 '13 at 10:43
    
Or you could mix things up a bit by saying, "I knew when I first saw you that you are John's brother." –  rhetorician Mar 17 '13 at 2:08

Answer 2 would be correct.

"I knew you were John's brother."

In present it would be

"I know you are John's brother."

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.