So, I have a sentence, more or less like this:

"Gil, who HAS a psychokinesis ability, studied math yesterday."


"Gil, who CAN move things without touching them, studied math yesterday."

So, with those sentences, I want to explain something that happened in the past, while explain a little about Gil himself. The thing is that I'm confused with the form I have to use for the "HAS" or the "CAN". I don't think I could use "HAD" or "COULD", because his psychokinesis ability is something he always has, till now (present). But I'm not sure present tense is right one. What form should I use?

Sorry for my broken english.


2 Answers 2


If you wish to refer to the fact that Gil studied math yesterday, and he still has psychokinetic powers, use the present tense just as you did above:

Gil, who has psychokinetic powers, studied math yesterday.

Gil, who can move objects with his mind, studied math yesterday.

If his powers have ceased or you don't really know anything about him anymore, you can use the past tense in that construction:

Gil, who had psychokinetic abilities, studied math yesterday.

Gil, who could move objects with his mind, studied math yesterday.

Both are perfectly grammatical. But, their meaning is slightly ambiguous:

Gil either used to have psychokinetic abilities, or we are generally done referring to Gil (in other words, Gil who we knew in the past had the powers at that time).

If you wish to avoid the ambiguity:

Gil, who used to have psychokinetic abilities, studied math yesterday.

Gil, who used to be able to move objects with his mind, studied math yesterday.

That said, the whole sentence construction is a bit off for English. His psychokinetic abilities are so unrelated to his doing math, that it stretches the reader's mind trying to make a connection.

  • Thank you very much! Not just answering my question, you even made my question clearer, even for the one who ask(me)... Yes, sorry for that example. I thought because it's just an example, I just made up a sentence with the same template as the one I want to make.
    – Konayuki
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:24
  • Um, could I ask again? Because I think this one falls in the same category... Earlier I said "I thought because it's just an example". But is that right? "I thought" because it happened in the past, but in "it's just an example", should I use "it was", or is it right to use "it's (it is)"?
    – Konayuki
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:25
  • @zargin No problem. :-). It's can mean both it is and it was in English. (Although, it is is the more common meaning, 'twas being the archaic contraction of it was that is preferable.). It was would be more proper because you were describing a past decision. But, it is is also acceptable due to the fact that you were describing a thought in the past. In other words: I thought, "It is just an example." vs. I thought it was just an example. (Note the quotation marks.) Does this make more sense?
    – David M
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:33
  • Aaa I remember! That's... direct and indirect speech... Okay, thank you so very much! :D
    – Konayuki
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:42
  • I'm not sure I got it right, but I guess you meant something like: "I thought so, because it is/was just an example". If so, I believe both are correct. I'd go with "was", but IMHO if you wish to emphasize the fact that the IT has always been, and will be, an example - you could say "is".
    – jules
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:43

I'm pretty sure you're safe with "has/can".

  • 1
    Thank you so much for your answer, but next time please elaborate it. Because not just 'what', I also want to know 'why'...
    – Konayuki
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:28
  • Because you've go two separate sentences there. Gil has an ability and Gil studied yesterday. You can add more tenses to your sentence: "Gil, who can move things without touching them, studied math yesterday, and he's going to start studying again tomorrow, because he has always thought it's the best pastime ever - of course if you're not busy moving things around." :)
    – jules
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:35
  • Thank you very much! :D So sorry I cannot upvote anything yet :(
    – Konayuki
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:45
  • @jules Edit that into your answer and I will up vote it.
    – David M
    Mar 22, 2014 at 20:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.