Which statement is correct and why?

I threw a coin in a well that was in the forest.


I threw a coin in a well that is in the forest.

Also, is the "is/was" before "in the forest" called a linking verb?

Lastly, is the phrase "that [was/is] in the forest" an adjectival phrase that is describing forest?

  • 2
    Either one is OK, unless the well or the forest has been moved since. This is a perfect place to use Whiz-Deletion to produce I threw a coin in a well in the forest. Then you don't hafta worry about past or present tense of be, which doesn't mean anytning anyway, and you don't hafta worry about which versus that, either. Win-win all around; that's why there are such rules as Whiz-Deletion. Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 0:46
  • hafta? really? O.o
    – i-CONICA
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 9:40
  • 1
    @i-CONICA: He's using that for effect. If you doubt he understands English grammar, you're in the minority around here.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 10:01
  • @Robusto I know his credentials. I just think it sounds lazy, especially from someone with his credentials. I don't understand the "effect" it imparts.
    – i-CONICA
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 10:16
  • I'm sure it was a deliberate choice, not a lazy one. Prof. Lawler is a careful writer, and if he writes something that sounds odd to you, you should allow the possibility that he means it to sound odd. This isn't a chain of YouTube comments, after all. Assume first that people here are at least as smart as you are.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 11:08

1 Answer 1


The difference between the two options is partly a matter of nuance. The first one, using "was", allows the reader to wonder if perhaps the well no longer exists, while the choice using "is" makes it clear that the well is still there (at the time of writing), and there is more chance the reader could throw a coin into the same well.

The phrase "that was in the forest" is an adjectival phrase, but does not describe the forest, but rather the well.

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