Is it correct to say "I realized that you are truly lost." instead of "I realized that you were truly lost"?

Because realized is past tense, I'm not sure whether using "you are" instead of "you were" is appropriate. If I use "you are", someone can ask me, "how do you know that they are still lost". Right?

What I actually intend to mean is that "You are lost if you don't change."


Normally in English, the tense of an embedded clause takes that of the matrix clause:

I realized that you were truly lost.

This says nothing about whether you were lost earlier, or later, only that you were at the time I realised it.

If is often possible to use a different tense in the embedded clause, but this will have a specific meaning. So

I realized that you are truly lost.

is grammatical, but is unusual, as it is emphasising that your being lostness continues to now (and probably implies that it is for all time).

  • 3
    If I might say so, without sounding patronising, that is a particularly erudite answer. – WS2 Nov 14 '14 at 0:35
  • @ Colin Fine. You say that the present tense in the embedded clause is unusual. Have you any evidence for this? – tunny Nov 14 '14 at 0:37

If, at the time of speaking, the speaker considers that the person addressed is still lost, then the present tense 'are' is possible. The principle of backshifting when the reporting verb is in the past tense means that 'were' is also possible.

If, at the time of speaking, the speaker is referring to the state of being lost of the person addressed at the time of the realisation, then only 'were' is possible.

In your context, 'are' is appropriate, though 'were' is possible.

  • If the person who downvoted would care to explain why, in a comment, I might be able to correct any errors in my answer. – tunny Nov 14 '14 at 0:34
  • 1
    I also puzzle to understand why anyone would down vote this. I am m ore than happy to up-vote. – WS2 Nov 14 '14 at 0:38

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