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I have read a sentence including occur in New Concept English, a well-known English reference book focusing on rules of British English. And in order to fully grasp the word, I tried to make a sentence with it, but in the middle, I was greatly confused by the tense.

It suddenly occurred to me that he [is/was] a considerate leader.

Supposing that the truth is he is definitely a considerate manager, and while I was doing something yesterday, the thought slipped into my mind. Which tense is more appropriate? And please explain in detail, thanks!

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Dec 10 '13 at 10:16

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  • "It suddenly occurred to me that he had been a considerate leader." Using the past perfect is more precise, providing an open-ended future that he would still be considerate. Using the past tense would be colloquial, as that would be punctiliar - specifying a point in time that he was considerate, closing up both future and past possibilities by trapping it to a point in time. – Blessed Geek Dec 10 '13 at 10:17

If the thought happened in the past and it is important that he is STILL a considerate leader you would use

It suddenly occurred to me that he is

If you had some action after the though occurred to you, you could say

It suddenly occurred to me that such a considerate leader should be ....


The default is was, because that introduces a projected clause that is comparable to reported speech. Your thought is ‘he is a considerate leader’. When you record thoughts, just as much as well as speech, verbs in the present tense change to past tense, producing, in this case, was.

However, speakers who want to emphasise that the circumstances reported are still continuing will keep the present tense. This is particularly desirable in cases where the past tense risks being read as referring to a past event or state.

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