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This actually happened with me. Yesterday, while going home, some strange person approached me and asked about the nearest cyber cafe (from that place, obviously!). Since I'm familiar with that place, I guided him.

But today, while describing that event to my colleague, I got stuck for a while. This raises a question here. What do 'present things/places' take when they are described in past.

Let me clarify by putting the conversation here:

"Yesterday, when I was going home, there was a jam, a terrible traffic jam. When I was in my car, a guy came and asked me where the nearest cyber cafe WAS/IS?"

Now, the cyber cafe IS present, even today so it should take is. But then the event is of past so it takes was.

Note: I don't want to use the direct speech where the original words of the speaker never change. It becomes easiest then - A guy approached me and asked, "Where is the nearest cyber cafe?"

  • In speech, nobody can see the quotes, and with a little pause or change our speech pattern, you could use the direct speech, which in my opinion is better in some cases. Sometimes indirect speech can sound strange, for example, a new co-worker whose name is unknown to me might say, "Ten years ago, when I was in Beijing, a guy asked my name, and I told him that my name was XXX." Now just to be sure, I might need to ask "And your name is still XXX, right?" :-) – Damkerng T. Feb 19 '14 at 11:44
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I would simply use the past tense in such a case. Even if the place he asked about still is at the same location, that doesn't matter.

In a lot of cases, the thing that was asked about no longer is in that state at a later time, but whether it is or not, is not relevant to the story you are telling, so I would not try to make that distinction. If you tell this same story a year later, the cyber-cafe may or may not exist in the same place any more, and I don;t see why it would or should change your narrative.

Yesterday, this man asked me what time it was.
Then he asked me where the nearest bank was
and what the business-hours for that bank were.

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