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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
  • Question wasn't clear and I edited it. Edit it further as you wish – James Waldby - 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
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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.

  • 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
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Answer 2 would be correct.

"I knew you were John's brother."

In present it would be

"I know you are John's brother."

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The tenses are usually not mixed, but it is not impossible or wrong to do so, in order to give a desired meaning. Examples: 1) Two years ago, my teacher said my writing was bad. 2) My other teacher also said that my writing is bad.

In the first cases every fact related was in the past. In the second case, the teacher spoke in the not so distant past, but the speaker knows that nothing has changed with his writing, and it is still the same as it was when the teacher made the statement. The second sentence can use "was" rather than "is," but using "is" is not incorrect.

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