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I'm a little confused about the correct way of using tense in clause.

For example, I was writing descriptive text about a skiing experience with my friend, which goes:

So, to help her, I gave her my kneecap, gloves, hip pads, which are all designed to alleviate the pain when you fall.

Since the purpose of the protective clothing is to alleviate pain, which is a general truth, my use of "are" in the relative clause is correct?

More importantly, both the instructor and I told her that the only way to really master the skill is to bravely and decisively execute the actions, and to feel the subtle shift of weight within your body.

Should I use "is" or "was" here? I don't think the words that I told her is a general truth, but only a mere personal claim. So, according to the rule, if the independent clause is in past tense, the subordinate clause "that the only way..." must be in past tense?

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Your usage of 'are' is correct, since they still are able to 'alleviate the pain when you fall.' You'd use 'were' if you were describing something that was true in the past, but now isn't, for example:

George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were all Presidents of the US

but now aren't, which is why you don't say they 'are' Presidents of the US.


Using 'told her that' before and 'is' after is perfectly acceptable, because it is indirect speech. The 'that' makes the speech indirect, which means you can use the present tense 'is' with 'told' because of backshifting.

Backshifting applies to verbs in the subordinate clause. It shifts directly quoted present tense verbs to a past tense. But it's often optional, as in this example. The present tense 'is' is retained because the advice is still good now.

(thanks to @deadrat for the corrections)

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You are speaking of a past event and item(s) manufactured in the past. The correct 'tense' is, "were" however I would probably edit the first phrase altogether.

"So, to help her, I gave her my kneecap, gloves, and hip pads, which were all designed to alleviate pain when you fall."

Your second phrase does contain a split infinitive but the 'tense' is correct.

"More importantly, both the instructor and I told her that the only way to really master the skill is to bravely and decisively execute the actions, and to feel the subtle shift of weight within your body."

  • One more question: doesn't past tense imply there is a difference between the past and present? If I say they 'were' designed for protection, doesn't it imply they are no long designed for protection now? For example, I 'traveled' a lot = i do not travel a lot now, correct? – Sen Foo Mar 4 '17 at 16:47
  • @SenFoo To use the past tense does not imply that the objects are no longer designed for protection. Only the context can make this clear. The past tense merely indicates that the designing took place at some point in the past. Compare: These were designed 20 years ago and still function well with These were designed 20 years ago but are no longer in use. – Ronald Sole Mar 5 '17 at 0:54

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