When we say " X was nice", does it imply X was nice in the past, but not nice any more at the present?

Here is one context: One day I went shopping with a friend, and we saw a nice item in a shop. After several days we met together, when we were talking about that item, he said:" That was nice". But I thought it should be "That is nice" because we were talking about something that is a timeless fact.

So which form is correct?

  • I think you should say "He said:'That is nice'". But it can also be "He said that it was nice". It's the reported speach.
    – Pedro
    Sep 24, 2014 at 14:01
  • @Pedro sorry for the confusion. yes, i know the tense that should be used in the reported speech. But what he said is "that was nice". Sep 24, 2014 at 14:12
  • Pedro: please read Oerkelens answer, which reflects how English is actually used.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 24, 2014 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


Last year, we celebrated Christmas with the neighbours. It was really nice.

It's still nice today that we did that last year, but the message I want to convey is that is was a nice thing at the time we did it.

She gave me a new computer for my birthday. It was really nice.
She gave me a new computer for my birthday. It is really nice.

Here, the difference is indeed that in the first case, I either mean that her giving it to me was nice, or that I no longer have that computer (or it is not nice anymore — possibly because it is now out-dated).

The second sentence very clearly states the computer is nice, and it still continues to be nice.

Now, about having seen an item in a store.

If I'm out shopping for a sweater, and after having seen some, I am talking about the one in the first store we went (of course!), I'd say:

The sweater in that first store we went... it's really nice.

Meaning that I still think it is nice, and basically implying that I might want to go and buy it.

However, if I have no intention of actually making the item a part of my present life, then having seen it, as well as appreciating it, is something that occurs in the past:

That sweater in the first store was really nice, but it was too expensive.

Sure, chances are that it still is nice, and still too expensive, but that is not relevant to my current situation.

Compare the following sentences:

The girl I met yesterday was really nice.
The girl I met yesterday is really nice.

The first sentence implies that meeting her is something that happened in the past and that is now finished. I have no idea whether she has changed much since then, but it seems reasonable to assume she is still nice. However, since I have no plans of meeting her again, and since she is not part of my present life, it is quite irrelevant whether I consider her a nice person in the present.

The second sentence does drag her into my present. I think she is nice, meaning that I think of her as being in my life in one way or another at present. I am probably planning on meeting her more often.

My colleague at my current job is a really nice person.
My colleague at my last job was not very nice.

Again, teh first colleague is part of my present, so the fact they are nice is part of my present. The second colleague, as well as their not being so nice, is part of my past.

  • Thank you so much, much appreciated! you solved a problem that puzzled me for a long time. Sep 24, 2014 at 14:36

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