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I guess the usage of "be" in the passage below is grammatically correct even though the whole narration is in the past tense. Can you, please, explain to me why it is correct and why it is not "was" instead?

I liked working at the lab and doing all those experiments with acids and alkalines. At first, my interest was so great that I simply ignored Jack's suggestion to use that device. However, the more I continued, the more I was upset about spilling acid on the floor almost every time I experimented on it. One day - almost by accident - I showed up in the nearby lab where the parallel class students were experimenting. What struck me a lot was the fact that they never spilled any liquids that they were "playing with" - not only acids. Another thing that also struck me a lot was that they all were using exactly that device that Jack had suggested that I would do a few days earlier. I quickly went back to my lab and started studying that device. It took me a while to figure out how to use it. Finally, I realized that that was quite a handy device that I could always use in my experiments and never be afraid of spilling acid on the floor again.

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I do see one problem with the last sentence in that passage, but I do not think it is "be". I would write:

Finally, I realized that that was quite a handy device that I could always use in my experiments to never be afraid of spilling acid on the floor again.

The sentence as written was not grammatical, even beyond your comment on tense. "Be" is correct as part of the infinitive form "to be". Without using the infinitive, the sentence doesn't really make sense.

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  • What about the word could in that sentence? Does it not only tag with use ("I could always use") but also with be ("I could never be afraid"), therefore, making the sentence grammatical? – brilliant Oct 29 '18 at 22:38
  • The original sentence is perfectly grammatical. Tashus's rewriting is also grammatical, but has a different meaning. In the original, always use and never be are parallel coordinated terms governed by could. In the rewriting, to be becomes a purpose clause. In practice, there's not much difference, but potentially they are very different in meaning. – Colin Fine Jul 7 at 19:42
  • @ColinFine The second phrase in the parallel construction doesn't make sense to me when parsed alone. "that was quite a handy device that I could never be afraid of spilling acid on the floor again" It would work with "such a handy device", but isn't there a problem in the original? – Tashus Jul 7 at 21:53
  • Yes, you're right, @Tashus, now I've reread it: there's an anacoluthon. But nevertheless, the sentence as given reads perfectly normally to me. – Colin Fine Jul 7 at 21:57
  • @ColinFine Thanks for teaching me a new word! – Tashus Jul 7 at 22:09

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