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In the following sentence is it correct to use the present tense ("when he grows up") with a story that is basically told in the past tense?

Don dreamed of becoming a doctor one day, when he grows up.

  • Can "dreamed" (in the past) go with ("when he grows up") in the future?

I don't think that "grew up" can fit, but "grows up" sounds a bit awkward as well.

Tnx, Tommy

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  • 'When he grows up' suggests that Don is still a child; but then it would have to be 'dreams', unless his ambitions have changed! Oct 30 '18 at 10:13
  • Yes, Don is still a child. My question is if the present tense (when he grows up) can sit well with the whole paragraph telling it in the past tense (Don dreamed..).
    – Tommy
    Oct 30 '18 at 21:12
  • In that case I'm puzzled as to why you want to say it in the past tense, unless Don used to dream of being a doctor but now wants to be something else. Oct 31 '18 at 9:14
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    Why not, //Don dreamed of becoming a doctor one day, when he grew up (or, when he would grow up) // Even if he is still a child, it holds good, doesn't it? Anyway, it is said (as if in a reported speech) by someone else.
    – Ram Pillai
    Jan 23 '20 at 9:26
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My choice in rephrasing this would be:

Don dreamed that one day, when he grew up, he would become a doctor.

Hope that helps.

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  • Tnx for rephrasing, but do you see any problem with this sentence as it is: "Don dreamed of becoming a doctor one day, when he grows up." Don is still a child. My question is if the present tense (when he grows up) can sit well with the whole paragraph telling it in the past tense (Don dreamed etc..) and the rest of the essay which is written in the past, Tnx.
    – Tommy
    Oct 30 '18 at 21:14
  • I think there's a simple misunderstanding about tenses and time here: "Don dreamed that he would become a doctor when he grew up" or as I rephrased it: "Don dreamed that one day, when he grew up, he would become a doctor." work because the DREAM Don had, in which he grew up to become a doctor OCCURRED in the relative past - though his dream projected a future adult state in which he became a doctor, the dream itself occurred in the past, and hence the correct tenses would all be in accord. Oct 30 '18 at 22:09
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    Got your point, Tnx!
    – Tommy
    Oct 30 '18 at 22:25
  • Oh - you might find this useful, btw: [qntm.org/streetmentioner] Oct 30 '18 at 23:05
  • Looks interesting, will give it a close read, many thanks for your advice ;-)
    – Tommy
    Oct 31 '18 at 12:33
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If you put the subordinate clause first, the problem becomes apparent:"When he grows up, Don dreamed of becoming a doctor one day." The subordinate clause puts us in a possible future, but the main clause puts us in a definite past. You can't posit a past based on an indefinite future.

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  • In your phrase, "when he grows up" is a subordinate of dreamed, not of one day. That does not make a problem with the original apparent, it specifically creates a problem that the original did not have.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 23 '20 at 12:58
  • @RegDwight You're right. Is there then no problem with the original sentence? If the verb is changed, does the construction still pose no problem: "Don feared (of) becoming a doctor one day, when he grows up."
    – Zan700
    Jan 24 '20 at 21:25

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