Consider the two sentences:

Whenever I discuss X, people don't know what I'm talking about.

Whenever I discuss X, people don't know what I talk about.

I think the first one should be obviously idiomatic to any anglophone, while the second one sounds unnatural, ungrammatical, and wrong. But why?

"Whenever" implies regularity, a repeated action, so we use the Present Simple tense. Hence, it should be "discuss", "know", and "talk". Instead, "talking" is idiomatic.

Can anyone provide a good grammatical rationale for this phenomenon? I would appreciate any authoritative references since I'm drawing a blank.

Thank you!

  • Well, I can't point to references, but if you're discussing something what you're talking about is what's being said then and there, whereas "what I talk about" doesn't link it in time to the discussing.
    – ralph.m
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 22:56
  • 1
    The verb "discuss" is not the only verb that allows this construction. "Whenever I leave the building, people don't know where I'm going." Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 1:03
  • @michael_timofeev Good point, Michael.
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 11:11

2 Answers 2


It seems a bit idiomatic.

Skip the whenever. You say, I just went to the show. Your listener responds I don't know what you are talking about.

We regularly use talking about to refer to the subject of a discourse, even a completed one. We could say I don't know what you just talked about, but that is not the norm.

No references. No rule. Just impression.


It sounds to my ear that the first one is correct. The "whenever" seems to give the sense of "during" - "During the times when I am discussing X..." so during each short period of time that I am discussing X, I am talking about it.

  • Thanks for the answer. But I disagree that "whenever" implies duration. It means "every time something happens", or "every time".
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 11:15

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