We were shocked when we found/find out the toilet had/has no flush.

My natural intuition would lead me to write this way:

We were shocked when we found out the toilet had no flush.

Then I thought that I was really trying to say that it's the kind of traditional toilet where there is no such thing as a flush — they cover them with banana leaves (seriously). So, I am stating a fact that still holds true. Hence I revised as below.

We were shocked when we find out the toilet has no flush.

Can someone please explain and/or correct the sentence above?

  • 1
    You have a mismatch in time between were, which is past, and find out and has, which are present. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 28 '13 at 9:22
  • @Matt. Indeed I share your observation, and all this time I thought it's a hard and fast rules. However lately I've been tutoring 4th-graders English and found sentences with differing time space (I'm lacking a better term). Example below: In fact, once Jalim saw their familiar faces in the crowd, he felt his nervousness slip away. – 10davvid Mar 9 '13 at 4:18
  • @Matt. Nervousness is a singular noun, yet 'slip' is neither in past form nor takes the 's'. Wow, it's even more interesting now. Any thought guys? I should've made it clearer, the example above is taken from an English textbook by a major publisher. – 10davvid Mar 9 '13 at 4:28

Being shocked, making your discovery and the unsatisfactory condition of the plumbing are states and actions that occurred in the past, as far as you are concerned. Your natural intuition led you to the right conclusion.

  • I'm with you on the discovery and the state of mind that they both occurred in the past and sort of, IMHO, isolated to a particular time-frame--in the past. However, I can't say the same for 'the toilet has no flush' because it's a fact that still holds true. Example: I found out (again discovery made in the past) that the capital city of Cyprus is Nicosia from a friend who (still) lives there. It was never a big deal until I started teaching/tutoring; how am I to explain to the students? – 10davvid Mar 9 '13 at 4:51
  • @10davvid. These sentences behave like indirect speech. That means that ‘I found out that the capital city of Cyprus was Nicosia from a friend who still lives (or lived) there’ is also possible. But, as the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ says, although this use of past tense in reported speech is common, reported speech also occurs with other tenses. The reporting verb may be in the past tense, but the verb in the indirect quote remains in the present tense, emphasizing that the circumstances . . . are still continuing. – Barrie England Mar 9 '13 at 7:12

You can use either of the following:

  • We were shocked when we found out that the toilet didn't have a flush.
  • We were shocked when we found out there was no flush for the toilet.

And your first sentence is also grammatical.


We were shocked when we found out that this kind of toilet has no flush.

makes complete sense also.

We were shocked when we found out that the toilet has no flush.

is also grammatical, and correct if the actual toilet is still in evidence.

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