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Can you please confirm which of the following three is correct?

  • I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agrees is a good solution for the problem we are facing.
  • I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agreed is a good solution for the problem we are facing.
  • I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agreed was a good solution for the problem we are facing.

I get confused with which tense to use when something happened in the past that relates to something in the present or future.

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3 Answers 3

I don't think any of those quite work, but not because of tense. Try this:

I shared an idea with Jon, which he agreed was a good solution for the problem we are facing.

So we have "shared" and "agreed was" matching tense, and we have a singular idea.

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Even then I still don't like the phrasing much. My problem is - what exactly does "which" refer back to? The idea itself, or the fact/act of sharing it with Jon? Grammatically I think it should be the latter, but most likely the speaker would intend the former. –  FumbleFingers Dec 7 '12 at 18:16
    
@Bill Franke: I agree the appropriate noun phrase closest to the relative pronoun. But note that in OP's examples it's plural some ideas, which doesn't fit with the singular verb forms is/was a good solution. Native speakers wouldn't necessarily balk at any of OP's variations in respect of the past/present verb forms, but we don't normally make basic mistakes with singular/plural verb forms. –  FumbleFingers Dec 7 '12 at 22:42
    
It might be better to say it this way: I shared with Jon an idea that he agreed would solve our current problem or, more simply, I gave Jon an idea that he agreed would solve our current problem. –  user21497 Dec 7 '12 at 22:50
    
@Bill: oic. Actually, it was a bit of both. Given we'd started with OP's "singular" version, and I didn't think a competent speaker would get the verb "plurality" wrong, I was still in that mode when I posted my comment. There are lots of way to rephrase any of the possible intended meanings, but they might not directly address OP's specific question about past/present tense for either/both the agreeing and the being a good solution. –  FumbleFingers Dec 7 '12 at 22:55

As RoryAlsop notes, you have a problem with agreement in number between "ideas" and "is/was". But ignoring that and getting to your question:

All are valid. They technically mean slightly different things.

"He agrees is" means that he agrees in the present. "He agreed is" means that at some time in the past he agreed that this was a solution in the on-going present. "He agreed was" means that at some time in the past he agreed that this was a solution in the past.

In many cases the technical distinction would be irrelevant: if he agreed in the past he probably still agrees in the present. If the solution would have worked in the past it probably would still work today. Etc. But not necessarily.

It would be perfectly reasonable to say, "Last year Jon agreed that this was a good solution, but now he says that he has changed his mind." Or, "Jon agrees that this would have been a good solution last year, but now circumstances have changed and he doesn't think it would work today."

Without additional discussion like that, I'd take all three to mean the same thing. Unless we were talking about a case where someone might be carefully choosing his words to mislead.

(I'm reminded of back when I used to work with a Political Action Committee, and a candidate took out an add saying that he was "endorsed by XXX PAC in every past campaign". But we were not endorsing him in that campaign. By phrasing his statement to use the past tense, it was arguably true: when he ran in the past, we had endorsed him. But we were not endorsing him in the current, present campaign.)

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All those tenses are correct, except that you used a singular verb for a plural noun.

Therefore, if you fix those mistakes, you end up with:

1) I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agrees are a good solution for the problem we are facing.

2) I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agreed are a good solution for the problem we are facing.

3) I shared some ideas with Jon, which he agreed were a good solution for the problem we are facing.

So what are the differences?

Being literally correct,

1) means that Jon still agrees that those ideas are a good solution for the problem at hand

2) means that Jon agreed that those ideas are a good solution for the problem, but it's questionable whether his agreeing is still true

3) means that Jon agreed that the ideas were a good solution for the problem, but this is very probably not true anymore, either because:

  • A) he does not agree with those ideas anymore
  • B) the problem has already been solved
  • C) the problem hasn't been solved, but a solution isn't required anymore
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3) also can simply mean that Jon agreed then (and can still agree - this is not ruled out) - this is the phrasing I would expect to use in this case. –  Rory Alsop Dec 7 '12 at 18:19
    
@RoryAlsop: yes, hence the "very probably" part. –  RiMMER Dec 7 '12 at 18:19
    
No, no, no. The sentences do not suffer from this "error" if you take them to mean that the sharing of ideas, in of itself, is a good idea. –  Ian Atkin Dec 8 '12 at 0:16

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