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Please advise me on this - Imagine, A and B are two friends.

A says to B : "You go to Sam's room and see if Sam's sleeping." B : "Okay" B leaves and find that Sam's room is closed. 5 minutes later B returns and tells A about Sam room.
A: Did you go there ?
B: Yes I went there and I found that Sam's room is closed.

Is 'is' possible in the above sentence given the fact that B knows that Sam's room is still closed at the time of speaking to A.?

P.S. If the sentence were like -

He found that he lives in England.

He found that the sky is blue.

In these examples I'm aware that the present tense can be used because its a permanent action. (Living in England is permanent and the sky is and always be blue)

But in the sentence "I found that Sam's room is closed." Here Sam's room will not be always closed, probably it will be opened after few hours, few days. So its a temporary action. So by this logic "is" seems incorrect. But at the time of speaking to A, Sam's room is still closed and B knows it for a fact. And by this logic "is" seems correct.

I'm lost. What would be your advice on it?

Thank You in advance.

  • Man, this is a really good question. +1, I'm curious now too. – Jared May 2 '15 at 16:17
  • Somebody please share some thoughts on it. – iamRR May 2 '15 at 18:35
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I don't really think it has so much to do with the grammar of the simple present tense (i.e. used for permanent actions, general truths etc) as the speaker's choice at the time of speaking. Based on the speaker's perspective, both the simple present and the simple past tenses would be possible.

As I see it, the speaker would equally produce either

  1. "I found (that) Sam's room was closed"

referring to the time he went there and saw it was closed as implied by the use of the simple past tense in the verb and regardless of whether or not it is still closed or

  1. "I found (that) Sam's room is closed"

referring to the fact that it is closed at the time of speaking.

In other words, I don't think it should be a matter of what is (or sounds) correct, but a matter of intended meaning and/or chosen time reference.

However, bear in mind that were the speaker reporting the fact at a later time, the simple past tense would be in accordance with the Indirect (or Reported) Speech despite the fact that not all speakers adhere to its rules in cases where it makes little or no difference.

  • @ Geogia - So you mean to say that for non-enduring/temporary actions we can back shift the tense if the speaker feels that the reported words are still true at the time of reporting. So it all depends on how the speaker views the action at the time of reporting irrespective of permanent and temporary action. Is that what you saying ? – iamRR May 2 '15 at 20:01
  • Lets say today I happen to write a letter to my friend to tell him about my date with my girl friend. I had a date with her just an hours ago. Right after the date is over I start writing a letter. Let me quote a sentence which I want to write - "Today I had a date with my girl friend Lucy. When I looked at her I found that she is wearing a blue top........" I use "is" because at the time of writing a letter I believe that she is still be wearing same blue top. Because its been only an hour since I met my gf. So did I use "is" correctly here? – iamRR May 2 '15 at 20:26
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    [Response to comment 1] Yes, more or less. However, I don't quite get what you mean by "temporary" vs. "permanent" actions given that in my perspective of traditional grammar "temporary" and "permanent" equal respectively the continuous and simple aspects of the present tense. In your example, the verb "to be" can be either past or present in tense based on your speaker's choice but only simple (or permanent or stative, you name it) in aspect. You probably mean that the room is closed now but will be open later on, therefore "not forever closed." Not sure why you need worry about this – Georgia P. May 2 '15 at 20:46
  • [Response to comment 2] Your second example is right after the date, which means that the time frame has changed. In that case you are reporting the details of the date at a later time, therefore you rely on Past Tenses only, i.e. use the Reported Speech. If you were texting/emailing your friend during the date, then you should use Present Tenses. I don't see how this relates to your original example. – Georgia P. May 2 '15 at 20:46
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    Can't explain further. I think all you needed for your question to be answered appears in the comments. – Georgia P. May 2 '15 at 22:08
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I have been requested to weigh in on this question, because of a similar question posed by the poster. Maybe the forest of comments came to the same conclusion. I apologize for not having waded through them yet.

A says to B : "You go to Sam's room and see if Sam's sleeping."

B : "Okay" B leaves and find that Sam's room is closed. 5 minutes later B returns and tells A about Sam room.

A: Did you go there ?

B: Yes I went there and I found that Sam's room is closed.

I'm going to rewrite this slightly, to make it more representative of family life in my house. That makes it easier for me to imagine the dialogue vividly. (As written, this dialogue is perfectly understandable, though.)

A: (to B) Go see if Sam's sleeping, please. (I, the mother, am probably A; my younger son is B, and my teenaged son, prize-winning sleeper, is Sam.)

B : Okay. Leaves.... Returns after a moment. His door is shut and I can't hear anything.

On the other hand, I can perfectly well imagine that my younger son might get distracted and start playing with the cat on the way back to the kitchen. Then it might go like this:

A: (to B) Go see if Sam's sleeping, please.

B : Okay. Leaves. Wanders back into the kitchen five minutes later.

A: What happened? What's Sam doing?

B: I'm not sure. I think maybe he's asleep. His door was shut and I couldn't hear anything.

However, even in this case, B might say, "His door is shut and I can't hear anything."

Being a former English as a Second Language teacher, and my family being trilingual, I am infamous for my nitpicking over tenses. But even I would find nothing wrong with the present tense version being given with a five minutes delay.

What I'm saying is that it doesn't really matter whether you use the present or the past in a situation like this.

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