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How do I form a question based on the following details:

At 1pm on Sunday Jim: Are you a virgin? Jane: Yes

nothing happened from 1pm to 9pm

At 9pm on Sunday: Did Jim ask you whether you were a virgin?


At 9pm on Sunday: Did Jim ask you whether you are a virgin?

marked as duplicate by Drew, tchrist single-word-requests Jul 19 '15 at 3:46

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  • In English, the 1st person pronoun "I" is always capitalised - no exception. – chasly from UK Jul 18 '15 at 21:56
  • 1
    Were is the correct sentence to use, since the speaker is asking about Jim's knowledge. Asking has doubt in it. – dockeryZ Jul 18 '15 at 22:49
  • Time has nothing to do with it – dockeryZ Jul 18 '15 at 22:50

The difference is the mood

One is subjunctive (were) and the other is indicative (are)

While both sentences are indeed grammatically correct, the mood is completely different. A subjunctive mood suggests that there is doubt.

If you were a virgin | subjunctive


If you are a virgin | indicative


The first sentence expresses the uncertainty of Jane's virginity. The same concept goes for these sentences

  • If I had one million dollars ...
  • If I were rich ...
  • If cats were people ...

Using the million dollar sentence as an example, it's very clear that the subject does not have a million dollars, and there is usually a conditional phrase that follows, but that's another beast on it's own. You have to use the conditional because the first statement is in fact subjunctive.

If I had one million dollars, how would I spend it?

If fish could walk, fishing would be quite easy.

If a tree fell in the woods, would it make a sound?

If the student had read the book, he would have passed.


The root word here is indicate, which means to point something out, to demonstrate an actual, factual action... or being.

I have one million dollars

By using the indicative mood, there is no uncertainty, and there would be no need to use conditional phrases afterwards.. you cannot say

If I have one million dollars, how would I spend it? INCORRECT

The sentence would be the epitome of a grammatically incorrect sentence. It is very clear from the sentence that I do have one million dollars, no doubt whatsoever, no hopes, nothing..

If I have one million dollars, I will spend it. CORRECT

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?

Any doubt would be expressed in subsequent sentences.

John : Jim, I just heard that you won $1 Million!

Jim : John, if I have a million dollars, then where is it?

Can you spot the subjunctive sentence?

If cats are people, then why can they not talk?


If cats were people, then they could talk.

  • 3
    I think the subjunctive sentence is "If cats were people, then they could talk." – chelsia Jul 19 '15 at 3:33

Here "Did Jim ask you whether you were a virgin?" is correct because here we are backshifting the tenses (to past).

The reason of backshifting in your sentence is that the sentence starts with Did (past).

Also check out Sequence of tenses


Both the answers are correct. In reported speech, backshifting is exceptional if the statement still holds true. For instance:

Mandy: “The sun rises in the east.”
Mandy said that the sun rose in the east. or
Mandy said that the sun rises in the east.

John: “My brother is at Leipzig university.”
John said that his brother was at Leipzig university. or
John said that his brother is at Leipzig university.

see. Additional Information

  • This is the correct answer. – tchrist Jul 19 '15 at 3:42

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