English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

They knew what mercy is.
They knew what mercy was.

Mercy is something that always exists so can I say is as in the quoted example?

share|improve this question

I think it sounds more correct to use the same tense as the subject - so, in this case

simple past

They knew what mercy was.

simple present

They know what mercy is.

share|improve this answer

Mercy is something that exists always but everyone tends to understand it differently. For one person it is when you kill your wounded horse for another it is to try and heel it. It is not necessary that mercy is always the same thing even for one man. As times change, he may change his mind.

Therefore, they knew what mercy was and they could not know what it would be 10 years later.

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 1 '12 at 15:11

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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