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While she is sleeping, we decided to wake her up.

Trying to understand this grammar. Should we use decide or decided to?

Edit:

Okay, the reason I'm asking is because I'm trying to make some captions for a video. So the video will be

"While she was sleeping, we decided to...."

and afterwards we have another caption follows..

"Now she is awake..."

Using 'Now' usually uses present tense afterwards. If we use past tense earlier, it does not logically flows well with present tense later. So I don't know if I should use present or past tense.

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3  
Use decide; it matches the present tense is. (Or, if you're describing something that happened in the past, say, "While she was sleeping, we decided to wake her up.") –  J.R. May 7 at 9:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

While she is sleeping, we decided to wake her up.

That's simply wrong. You are mixing a present tense with a past tense. You could say:

While she is sleeping, we decide to wake her up.

This is pretty rare usage, though. In English we almost never give a narrative in the present tense. Present tense is primarily used to, (a) describe something literally happening right now. "Where is Bob?" "He is out to lunch." Or (b) to describe a continuous state. Like "Paris is the capital of France." It has been for a while and it is now and it probably will be for some time in the future.

More likely would be:

While she was sleeping, we decided to wake her up.

Also, when you have a conditional expression referring to a future event, you use the present tense, though logically you might think you should use the future tense.

WRONG: While she will be sleeping, we will decide whether to wake her up.

RIGHT: While she is sleeping, we will decide whether to wake her up.

(There's probably a name for this, it's not really the present tense, it's some kind of future conditional tense. But I don't know the name.)

Similarly:

If the stock market goes up, I can retire early.

Unless you stop acting irresponsibly, you will never get a good job.

Etc.

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For more detail on the (as noted, unusual) use of the present tense in narrative, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_present. (While the examples do include a shift from past to present tense, I think doing it mid-sentence would be wrong though.) –  armb May 7 at 16:02
    
okay, the reason I'm asking is because I'm trying to make some captions for a video. So the video will be "While she was sleeping, we decided to...." and afterwards we have another caption follows.."Now she is awake..." Using 'Now' usually uses present tense afterwards. So I don't know if I should use present or the past. –  tipsywacky May 7 at 16:11
1  
In that case, using the present seems reasonable, matching the immediacy of what is being shown on screen, especially if it is a drama where the viewer is supposed to feel as if the events are happening "now" (at the time of viewing), rather than feeling like a record of past events, but then you want the present tense for both "while she is sleeping" and "we decide to". –  armb May 7 at 16:34
2  
But you could switch from "While she was sleeping we decided" to "Now she is awake" if the first scene was past and the second scene is "catching up" with the present, or you want it to feel more immediate/closer. –  armb May 7 at 16:36
1  
In that case I think a present continuous would flow more nicely. "While she was sleeping we decided to wake her up. Now she is awake and we are giving her the medicine." You could say "Now she is awake and we give her ...". It's grammatically correct, but it's very unusual and so sounds awkward. –  Jay May 7 at 17:03

Note, a colloquial (chatty/informal) use of the present tense can be used while planning something to indicate the future:

While she is sleeping we will sneak in and scare her!

You can even continue that phrase with a statement in the present tense:

While she is sleeping, we sneak in and scare her!

The second actually feels more natural to me, although neither would sound incorrect to my ear.

EDIT

Given the context (a video) I think the first version makes most sense. Narrating a video is most often done in the present/future tense. Think about David Attenborough narrating a nature video:

Now the lion is crouching low in the grass, ready to take action. In just a moment
she will spring forward with lightning speed.....
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While she is sleeping, we decided to wake her up.

This sentence is wrong because "While she is sleeping" seems to be in the present while "we decided to wake her up" seems to be in the past. I think the best correction to this sentence would be

While she was sleeping, we decided to wake her up.

Telling that this 2 events both happened in the past. More info : http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastcontinuous.html

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