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Taking a test for fun to improve my English. English is my third language and it is very hard. I have been googling and getting more confused. I ran across this sentence "One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't feed them."

Link to the whole quiz at http://www.englishforeveryone.org/PDFs/To_Be_Exercise_4.pdf

I was wondering. Why is "feed" in present tense and "asked" is in past tense? How do i find out more about this kind of sentence structure.

Should it be "I asked my mom how come my little sister doesnt fed them" or "I asked my mom how come my little sister didnt feed them" or "I asked my mom how come my little sister didnt fed them"

Thanks.

Edit2:

I was doing a fill in the blanks quiz. Below is half of the quiz.

Next, I feed the pigs. One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn’t feed them. She said it is because my sister (be, not) ____ ____(8) strong enough. But I still don’t understand. She is almost as strong as me! I guess my mom doesn’t want my sister to get hurt. After all, the pigs can (be) ________(9) pretty rough, especially when they (be) ________(10) hungry.

edit3: This is how I feel right now after reading all the responses.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk-Gn3w2gt0

Everything is not so straightforward.

Thank everybody who contributed. When I wake up tomorrow, I will work more on it.

  • 1
    This use of the present tense is called the enduring present, and it's used in past reporting ("I asked") to indicate an ongoing situation. Little sister hasn't fed her fish (or whatever) and is likely to continue being negligent. Enter (with quotes) "enduring present," and you'll find I've answered this question six times, which is my limit. See if any of those answers help. If not, let us know. – deadrat Nov 20 '15 at 5:46
  • "She is almost as strong as I" not "She is almost as strong as me". – Blessed Geek Nov 20 '15 at 10:22
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In this case is more a matter of aspect than tense.

English has both tense and aspect, but encodes them ambiguously, using the same words, particles and morphemes for both.

If you use the past tense for the subclause like this: "I asked mum how come my sister didn't feed him." Then you are also making the aspect a single action at a single point in time, instead of the habitual aspect that is needed here.

The most important thing in this context is that it's still possible, when the whole sentence is spoken, for the little sister to feed them. The concept that (s)he asked his/her mum about is still current. So in the subclause the habitual aspect is given through the simple present form.

If you use the perfect it's possible to make it past tense and continuous aspect: "I asked mum how come my little sister hasn't been feeding them" but then you lose some of the emphasis that it's still possible for her to be doing it now.

  • Upvote for the explanation of aspect. – deadrat Nov 20 '15 at 8:54
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I asked in the past.

In the past, I asked my mom.

When I asked, I was asking about my sister's behaviour in what was, back then, the present.

So my question was in the present tense - it is asking now about my sister's behaviour now.

Then time moved on, and I am telling you now about a question I asked my mom a long time ago.

  • Thank you for the help. So it doesn't really matter now if the behavior changed now right? Even if she feeds the cow now and often, it doesnt matter since im telling you a story I asked my mom about long time ago and it doesnt matter if she changed right? If i were to tell you the story now, i would still use " I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't feed them". – user148281 Nov 20 '15 at 6:49
  • If the behaviour changed now, would that change the question you asked long ago? And yes, if you told me a story now about a time long ago when you asked this question, you would still say "I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't feed them." – Euan M Nov 20 '15 at 6:52
  • Short and simple for me to understand. Thank you very much for your effort! I just clicked on your profile and it says that you are building JavaScript mobile app. If you ever need help let me know. I also like to program. – user148281 Nov 20 '15 at 7:05
  • When you transpose a question in direct discourse (i.e., a quotation) into past indirect discourse (i.e., a report of the past speech), it may be necessary to change adverbs of place, pronouns, and verb tenses to preserve the meaning. The last is called backshifting. And the difference between backshifting and not affects the meaning. I can't tell if your answer addresses that. – deadrat Nov 20 '15 at 7:18
  • @deadrat I read the sentence - "One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't feed them." as containing a direct quote . Despite the fact that the phrase "How come my little sister doesn't feed them?" has neither quotation marks nor a question mark, it reads as a direct quote. Therefore no changes are necessary, and the point is moot. – Euan M Nov 20 '15 at 7:25
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Here are some valid options:

I asked my mom why my little sister didn't feed them.

You asked in the past, about something that didn't occur at that time.

I asked my mom why my little sister hadn't fed them.

A question asked in the past, about an action that didn't occur before that time.

I asked my mom why my little sister doesn't feed them.

You asked in the past about a situation that is ongoing: it was occurring at the time of the question, and is still occurring now.

I asked my mom: "Why doesn't my little sister feed them?"

A direct quote of what you asked your mom—about your sister not feeding them at that time.

I asked my mom: "Why didn't my little sister feed them?"

A direct quote of what you asked your mom—about your sister not feeding them before that time.

  • Thank you for the good examples. My next question is if my sister starts to feed the cow everyday now after I asked my mom, which one should I use? She only started to feed the cow because I complained to mom by asking. Lets say i want to tell my friend what happened. It should be "I asked my mom why my little sister didn't feed them", right? It would no longer be an ongoing situation if she started to feed the cow , right? – user148281 Nov 20 '15 at 6:35
  • 1
    Probably a better sentence in that situation would be: "I asked my mom why my little sister wasn't feeding them." – ralph.m Nov 20 '15 at 6:39
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Consider this explanation from Raymond Murphy's "English Grammar in Use":

"It is not always necessary to change the verb when you use reported speech. If you report something and it is still true, you do not need to change the verb:

Tom said that New York is more lively than London. (New York is still more lively. The situation hasn't changed.)

Ann said that she wants to go to New York next year. (Ann still wants to go to New York next year.)"

(Source: Raymond Murphy, "English Grammar in Use", UNIT 47. Reported speech (2))

By the same token, "One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't feed them" is correct, because the little sister still doesn't feed them. The situation hasn't changed.

Note that it's also grammatical to say "One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister didn't feed them" (though I would prefer "doesn't feed" to make the meaning more clear):

Note that it is also correct to change the verb into the past:

  • Tom said that New York was more lively than London.
  • Ann said that she wanted to go to New York next year.

(Source: Raymond Murphy, "English Grammar in Use", UNIT 47. Reported speech (2))

Regarding the other options you mentioned: "I asked my mom how come my little sister doesn't fed them" and "I asked my mom how come my little sister didn't fed them" are ungrammatical, because "do" is an auxiliary verb, and you use a bare infinitive after "do" in this case.

  • So, if the sister feeds the pigs now then the only option is to use "One time, I asked my mom how come my little sister didn't feed them" because she doesn't feed them is no longer true. Am i correct? Thanks for the help dude. – user148281 Nov 20 '15 at 8:57
  • Correct. You must use a past form when there is a difference between what was said and what is true now. – A.P. Nov 20 '15 at 8:59
  • If you've solved your problem, consider visiting english.stackexchange.com/tour, picking the most helpful answer, and accepting it for the benefit of future visitors. – A.P. Nov 20 '15 at 9:19
  • I just put in a ticket where i can not upvote or mark answer. Once that is fixed by Stackexchange then I will. – user148281 Nov 20 '15 at 9:37

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