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This confusion has been haunting me since I was fifteen. Please consider the following: A. It was I who killed your mom. B. It is I who killed your mom.

Question: As far as I know, we can apply two points of view here; the one of the past and that of the present, so we may use either was or is as long as I is still alive. Am I right?

  • Neither version is "wrong". As you say, it depends on the point of view implied by the context. – Hot Licks Jun 1 at 22:29
  • Where do you see any confusion, please? Either way, does "since I was 15" mean one or two, or 20 or 30 years? It is not at all a matter of perspectives. No, you may not use either was or is as long as I is still alive. You are not right and you should, please, take this Question to English Language Learners. – Robbie Goodwin Jun 1 at 22:36
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    @RobbieGoodwin sorry, but it seems you got it totally wrong, Sir. The first sentence there is just the intro to the point. The sentences to consider are the A and B sentences. The question is the one in bold type. – Fadli Sheikh Jun 1 at 22:43
  • @Fadli Sheikh Thanks and if you must put it that way no, you not I got it wrong, Sir. Broadly, "It was I…" would be acceptable. "It is I…" would not. The correct "I killed (whoever)…" is simply not comparable to "It is I who killed (whoever)…" If you doubt that, why not try the same Question in English Language Learners, for instance? – Robbie Goodwin Jun 1 at 22:52
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Either can be correct in the right context.

You were the person who killed their mother, and you still are the person who killed their mother.

"Who killed my mom?"
"I did."
→ It was I who killed killed your mom.

"Who is the person who killed my mom?"
"I am."
→ It is I who killed your mom.


Having said that, if there is no such exchange of dialogue to set the context, and each sentence is being offered as an unsolicited statement, then the past-tense version would be much more likely to make sense.

The present-tense version is jarring on its own, because the murder happened in the past. So, as a simple utterance, the past tense better matches the past event.

Using it is I only makes sense in response to a previous present-tense question that sets the stage, so to speak, for a present-tense reply. In fact, it would actually be jarring to hear a past-tense reply to a present-tense question.

If the statement is a reply to a question, then whichever tense the question is asked in would normally be the tense that it's answered in.

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  • Never have I got so clear an explanation before! Thanks a lot :) – Fadli Sheikh Jun 3 at 10:58

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