Provided this is correct:

The general rule is to match the tense of a subordinate clause with the tense of the main clause. E.g. He vacuumed while I washed the dishes. However, a subordinate clause can use present tense to express a general truth despite the main clause being in past tense. E.g. He discovered that the sun rises in the east.

What I'm wondering is:

When used in a work of fiction set in past tense, should present tense be used in a subordinate clause expressing a general truth?

The exact sentence that's sent me down this path is (in the context of a middle school health class): She explained how young girls bled once a month. I changed it to "bleed," but the author changed it back to "bled." Perhaps either is acceptable?

  • Either bled or bleed is fine in that case. The difference is not vast. If I were writing such a statement I would use the present tense to explain something that was generally true ("girls bleed once a month") and the past if the fact were something unique to the subject in question ("these girls were unusual in that they bled once a month") or if the condition used to be true but no longer is. Your mileage may vary. – Robusto Oct 14 '20 at 1:38

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