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I am trying to describe the following:

I listen to a particular podcast. By this I mean that I regularly listen to the podcast when episodes come out.

There was a guest on a particular episode of that podcast. In this case I might say "I listened to the guest on the podcast". No worries yet.

But now, what is the correct tense here:

"There was a guest on a podcast I listen to". By this I mean that the guest was on a specific episode of a podcast I listen to regularly.

Is it right to say "listen", which is present tense, even though the rest of the sentence appears to be in past tense?

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    Yes, present tense is fine for referring to something you do regularly, even if the immediate context is in the past. Hence, He offered me a cigarette - which I declined, because I don't smoke. But note that we often "backshift", especially when reporting what was said in the past: He offered me a cigarette, but I told him I didn't smoke. Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:23
  • Neat! If you post that as an answer I'll accept it Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:28
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    Ah, right! Now I understand your confusion! The issue is that your example is syntactically / "situationally" ambiguous, which my first comment blissfully ignores. It's all about whether "the podcast" refers to all podcasts from that "source / series" (which you listen to on an ongoing basis), or the specific episode (which you listened to on that occasion). Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:41
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    I've retracted my vote to migrate (it's an interesting example of ambiguity). But I'll leave it to someone else to flesh out the bones of an answer Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:44
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    If you heard a podcast, you listened—no news there. So I'd interpret "There was a guest on a podcast I listen to" as a podcast you listen to regularly. If you said "There was a guest on a podcast I listened to," I'd think yes you certainly did. Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 18:19

2 Answers 2

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The past tense of "I listen to a particular podcast" when the present tense "listen" conveys action the subject does habitually is:

  • "I used to listen to a particular podcast."

I teach ESL to Spanish and Portuguese speakers. In Spanish and Portuguese, speakers use the past imperfect tense for conveying habitual actions in the past, which commonly results in my students mistakenly using the past progressive tense in English by saying, for example, "I was listening to a particular podcast."

Well, anyone who speaks English as their first language knows that "was listening" is not how to convey that habitual action in the past, thus my lesson on how "used to" is used to form the past imperfect tense in English, what with English not having an actual verb tense devoted to this in the same way Spanish and Portuguese does, which if English did, the sentence would look something like, "I listeneda to a particular podcast." But I digress.

How you would say your last sentence to convey the past imperfect notion of the subject's action done habitually in the past is:

  • "There was a guest on a podcast I used to listen to."

As there seems to always be more than one way to skin a cat in English, other ways of conveying this include:

  • There was a guest on a podcast I would listen to.

  • There was a guest on a podcast I always listened to.

Reference:

Habitual (repeated) action in the past can be marked by used to, as in "I used to eat a lot", or by the auxiliary verb would, as in "Back then, I would eat early and would walk to school." (The auxiliary would also has other uses, such as expressing conditional mood.) However, in many cases the habitual nature of the action does not need to be explicitly marked on the verb, and the simple past is used: "We always ate dinner at six o'clock." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperfect#English).

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It's present tense, but in linguistics, we would assign it the habitual aspect. Present tense verbs can be used to describe habitual behavior in English, and in fact, this usage is very common.

He plays chess. She eats anchovies. Her friends thinks anchovies are gross.

All use the present tense verb and express habitual behaviors.

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