Here are the two sentences.

  1. This was the fastest I heard someone responded.
  2. This was the fastest I heard someone respond.

Can someone help me understand:

A) Which one is correct, and what is wrong with the mechanics of the incorrect one?

B) If they are both correct, can someone tell me what is the subtle difference between the two different words used?

I chose #1, but my rival chose #2 and everyone agreed with him because they said it "sounds" good. But i'm interested in mechanics and accuracy not sounds. I am really confused with this one. Help from the grammar mechanics gurus is greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Thanks to both Cerberus, Leon Conrad. Cerebus gave the excellent mechanics break-down. The missing That was making it sound awkward.

This was the fastest [that] I heard [that] someone responded.

This was the fastest [that] I heard someone respond.

And Conrad gave the subtle difference between the two meanings. Based on the context, (from Leon's explanation) I was correct, because I did not hear the response my self, I heard about the response from someone else. Because I cant choose 2 answers, I chose Leon's. That subtle difference was hard for me to spot.

  • Both are potentially valid (you could suppose #1 includes an elided that before someone). But both sound rather unnatural to me. I don't know the exact meaning intended, but I think anyone would probably be better than someone. That was the most I thought anyone gave. That was the least I saw anyone give. Etc., etc. – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '14 at 2:57
  • @ Jai: I still think it's a terrible example, and I don't think you've made it any clearer by editing to add the possibility of including that before I in both versions. But I notice you didn't include the possibility of adding another that after heard - so the difference was presumably obvious to you from my first comment. I also don't see why you're sticking with the peculiar-sounding someone, rather than anyone. – FumbleFingers Feb 7 '14 at 17:10
  • @FumbleFingers Anyone sounded better, i have change it. Also, I have added the [that] in braces as suggested by Cerberus because it shows clearly the beginning of each clause. I have it in braces as optional though. But Dont you think it was easier to understand the difference between the two sentences when you clearly know where each clause begin? – iOS Calendar patchthecode.com Feb 7 '14 at 20:28
  • @ Jai: No, I don't think the first optional "that" is enlightening, since it makes no difference whether it's present or not in either construction. But the second "that" can only be included in your example #1 - it simply doesn't make sense with the "bare infinitive" in #2. I think Cerberus has given a correct & comprehensive answer, but if you had simply considered the implications of the specific "elided that before someone", I think you would not have had any problem in the first place. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '14 at 0:40
  • 1
    As I initially commented, both are perfectly grammatical (if rather odd). But they mean completely different things. For a simpler pair illustrating the difference, consider "I heard [that] you called", which means "I was informed [by someone else] that you called". Contrasting with "I heard you call" which means at the time when you called, I heard you (no-one else was involved). In principle you could include that in my second version - you could say "I heard that you call" to a doctor, say, meaning "I was informed that you call" (i.e. - that you make house visits). – FumbleFingers Feb 10 '14 at 13:07

The second, to me, implies that you heard the fast response yourself.

The first, to me, implies that you heard about the quickness of the response from someone else.

I'd include 'that' before 'someone' in this version for clarity, as @binderbound explained.


Both are possible, with omitted that:

This was the fastest [that] I heard [that] someone responded.

This was the fastest [that] I heard someone respond.

The first one sounds slightly awkward, probably because you have two omitted thats. The construction I heard [that] someone responded is a simple clause followed by reported speech (introduced by that) in a subordinate clause. It is of the type I heard that someone closed the door, she knew that they were absent.

The second one sounds more common and natural, depending on context, of course. The construction I heard someone respond is a finite verb (heard) followed by an accusative/object (someone) with an infinitive (respond). It is akin to I saw her leave, I let her stay.

The high-level main clause this was the fastest [that]... is a red herring, in that it is irrelevant with respect to the difference between the sentences. It is of the type this was the fastest that she could run, this is the furthest that they went.

A complicating factor is that the main clause is connected with the subordinate clauses in a discontinuous way; i.e. words come in between the adverbial phrase the fastest and its natural place within the subordinate sentence, which would be I heard that someone responded the fastest, I heard someone respond the fastest, respectively. I would be complicated to explain, probably having to do with raising, but not very relevant to your question, I believe.

  • Methinks you should put in a had in the first one because the main clause makes it so you need to get the tense right in the subordinate clause. – virmaior Feb 7 '14 at 4:54
  • 1
    @virmaior: You mean as in had reponded? Yes, I should like to, but I suppose, in an unusual context, the sentence is possible without had — and I'd rather not change the example sentences at all... – Cerberus Feb 7 '14 at 4:59
  • Thinking through it again, I guess you can make it work with two thats as you suggest. But the person constructing the question probably never conceived of that particular pretzel. – virmaior Feb 7 '14 at 5:01
  • +1 on the excellent breakdown. I chose guy with smaller rank, but you both dot 50/50. – iOS Calendar patchthecode.com Feb 7 '14 at 7:47

I would choose #2 as well, but I'm trying to figure out why ... I think it's because you wouldn't double-up on the past tense like that. You could say "Someone responded" which would be past tense, but when you say "I heard," that already indicates past tense. I'm quite sure there is a more technical explanation out there, though!


Second one is correct: "This was the fastest I heard someone respond" - means you haven't heard anyone respond so quickly. It makes sense because you are talking about sometime in the past when you heard a response.

First one doesn't make sense "This was the fastest I heard someone responded" - you can't hear a response after it has happened, so you can't have heard a response that had already happened at the point you claim to have heard it either.

However, you can hear of/about a response after it happened. In which case "This was the fastest i heard someone had responded" makes sense, but is poorly worded. A better option would be "This was the fastest response I had heard of", because you are clearly making the fact that you had heard a response the main subject, and "fastest" the descriptor/adjective.

  • While you give the correct answer your explanation could be much clearer. – virmaior Feb 7 '14 at 4:52
  • I think that Leon Conrad got the subtle meaning between the two. – iOS Calendar patchthecode.com Feb 7 '14 at 7:29

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