Is this correct use of tense?

"I observed that there are three baseline user cases..."

Or should the tense match? Such as this example,

"I observed that there were three baseline user cases..."

To me it seems logical to use past tense that I observed and the present tense for the content of the observation since these observations are still valid and will be valid forever.

  • It depends on whether they are still (now) baseline user cases. Past tense only if not. – user3169 Nov 24 '16 at 0:12
  • @user3169 they will always be the baseline user cases of this study but they will not necessarily be the baseline cases for other studies, though they could be. If there is any chance the tense change will confuse anyone (including non native speakers) then I'd just as soon use observed/were. – forest.peterson Nov 24 '16 at 0:24

Use were if you're referring to the past tense where the situation is no longer true. For a fuller sentence, you might have:

I observed that there were three baseline user cases, but now there are four.

On the other hand, use are if it is still true.

Yesterday I observed that there are three truths about life: we all die, life will find a way, and someone will always try to be the king.

The observed is in the past tense because the actions are in the past tense. Incidentally, it's good scientific practice to put the methods in the past tense (things that you've done to get where you are) and general conclusions in the present tense (since, presumably, what you found is still true for everyone).

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.