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I am confused by the past tense used in the following sentence

I thought you loved me.

Why is it loved here? Does this mean that you expected someone to love you, but it turned out to not be the case?

I didn't know what else to do other than browsing the Internet for this phrase and ones similar to it because I don't know what grammar rule applies to this and makes it correct. I know wish is followed by the past tense, and be turns to were in conditional sentences, but even though "I thought you loved me" sounds natural, I would have thought “I thought you would love me” was correct.

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  • Why off-topic? Explanation?
    – L.White
    Mar 15, 2016 at 13:33
  • There is an explanation in the banner beneath the question: "Please include the research you've done." In other words, please explain what you already know about this part of grammar.
    – herisson
    Mar 17, 2016 at 4:30
  • Welcome to ELU. There's been some discussion about giving the question-reopening process more visibility. Here's a link to a trial of one approach. For this question, what I see is a lack of detail. The reason could be a typo, back-shifting, author's style, or an educator's example, etc. Without context, it's hard to tell. Have a look at the link, then return to edit your question - closed questions can be reopened if edited to fit the site's requirements.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 17, 2016 at 5:12
  • I didnt know what else to do other than browsing the internet for this phrase and ones similar to it because I dont know what grammar rule applies to this and makes it correct. I know wish is followed by past tense and be turns to were in conditional sentences but even though "I thought you loved me" sounds natural I would have thought "I thought you would love me" were correct. Apparently this question can be answered using commonly available references but I cant find one explaining this.
    – L.White
    Mar 17, 2016 at 5:43
  • It depends on your context. "I thought you would love me." Is a perfectly valid sentence that indicates you think did not in the past, or does not now, love you would begin to love you for some reason. Mar 17, 2016 at 15:39

4 Answers 4

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It depends on context.

I think you love me.

Means I currently believe you love me.

I thought you loved me.

Would usually be taken to mean I now no longer think you love me, or maybe you never did love me.

I think you loved me.

Means I think you used to love me, but you don't anymore.

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    There is no such thing as "subject tense." Perhaps you mean that the tense of the verb in the main clause must agree with the tense of the verb in the subordinate clause. There is no such rule in English.
    – deadrat
    Mar 15, 2016 at 7:57
  • @deadrat Thanks, I was thinking of subject/predicate agreement. I was totally wrong, thanks for calling me on it. Mar 17, 2016 at 15:48
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In a sentense like

I thought (past tense) that you (verb) x.

The tense of the verb in the subordinate clause most often needs to match the tense in the main clause (the main clause is "I thought").

I thought (past tense) that you (past tense verb) x.

This could be anything: I thought that you hated broccoli. I thought that you knew Peter. I thought that you loved me.

I thought you would love me works as a conditional because there's a situation in the past attached - even if only implied. It doesn't work for the simple past.

  • I thought that you would love me [if I treated (past tense) you like a queen...]
  • I thought that you would love [me if I liked (past tense) the same things you do...]
  • I thought you would love me [if I promised (past tense) never to look at another woman (or whatever)...]
  • I thought you would love me forever [but I was (past tense) wrong]...

Without the conditional having a past tense verb somewhere, that sentence can't really stand alone.

As stated in @InternetHobo's answer, "I think you loved me" means you think (in the present) that the subordinate clause verb happened/did happen in the past but is no longer happening now.*

*Did changes a verb's tense to the past.

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  • Perhaps an example along the lines of We thought you were dead might help to make it crystal clear that were is "backshifted" to match past tense thought. It's bogglingly unlikely for the addressee to be dead at time of speaking or time of thinking, whereas with He thought she was/is 16 there might be scope for confusion about whether her age changed between those two times (and thus which one applies). Mar 17, 2016 at 18:51
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I thought you loved me.

Such sentences have backshift analogue to indirect speech. One might introduce the term "indirect thinking".

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  • Not really, because backshift in IS is optional, but here it isn't. Mar 17, 2016 at 16:40
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I think this is a case of loved not being past tense, but subjunctive, which means it refers to something that is not objectively true. There is a formal set of rules and suffixes for subjunctive forms in Portuguese and probably other similar languages, but English got left out. That's why you hear things like, "God bless America," or "God save the Queen" instead of blesses or saves.

In your example, "I thought you loved me," it was not objectively true that you love me, so the subjunctive form is used.

More information can be found at the source of all truth and knowledge, Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

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    It's not subjunctive. "I thought he were nice" doesn't work at all. Sep 23, 2016 at 0:53
  • I thought those were short for "May God save the Queen," a sort of imperative, not a subjunctive. Sep 23, 2016 at 3:53
  • Plus, if they were subjunctive (heh, see what I did there?) your argument would imply that God doesn't bless America or save the Queen. Sep 23, 2016 at 3:54

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