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  1. Harry stowed everything he needs into his trunk.

  2. Harry stows everything he needs into his trunk.

  3. Harry stowed everything he needed into his trunk.

May I know which of these sentences is correct?

I am a bit worried about using a past tense and a present tense in one sentence.

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  • Can you provide some context? Neither is wrong by itself. Which one is correct depends on the rest of the text before/after it. – rpeinhardt Jan 3 at 22:42
  • Actually I only treat it as a general statement, but I think I get what you say! Thank you! Just one question, I'm unsure about the differences between my first sentence and the second sentence, could you explain to me please? Thank you very much!! – YOYO Jan 3 at 22:53
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In all three sentences, "everything he needs" is a noun clause which means it follows conjugation rules independent of the main verb, depending on what the intended meaning is.

  1. Harry stowed everything he needs into his trunk.

This means that prior to now, Harry stowed [things] which he needs in this moment.

It can also mean, that he stowed things that he needs generally (that might be needed at any time). Context determines which meaning is accurate.

Note that, for this latter meaning, you could also use the future or subjunctive tenses "Harry stowed everything he will/could need in his trunk." However, using the future or subjunctive tense only allows for future needs while using the present tense allows Harry to have those needs both in the past and/or in the future because of the generality.

  1. Harry stows everything he needs into his trunk.

This is similar to the previous sentence's meaning except that Harry is doing the stowing now, instead of in the past.

It also could be a general statement that, from time to time, Harry stowes things in his truck for those occasions he had need of them.

  1. Harry stowed everything he needed into his trunk.

This sentence means that Harry stowed things in the past for his needs, which were also in the past, but which have been met. Harry no longer has those needs.

  • Thank you so much!!! It is really detailed!!! I have no problem understanding it! Thank you ~ – YOYO Jan 3 at 23:30
  • @stoney very good point. I've Incorporated that into the answer. Thanks! – rpeinhardt Jan 4 at 2:41
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  1. is just wrong:"He stowed" refers to the past; "he needs" to the present.

  2. This is quite correct but could have more than one meaning. If you wanted to describe Harry's habitual behaviour when, we presume, he is going away somewhere, then it is perfectly correct to use the present tense to imply habitual activity, even if it might not happen in the future, as in "I eat cornflakes for breakfast".

A second possible meaning of the sentence is as the 'historic present' in which the present tense is used to describe events that were wholly in the past. It is often used by historians hoping to bring to life events of long ago, as in "the Pilgrim Fathers leave England hoping to find freedom to worship as they wish".

  1. is straightforward description of an event in the past. Such a style is very commonly used when relating a story.
  • Sentence 1 is not inherently wrong because "everything he needs" is a noun clause and does not need to match tenses with "stowed." – rpeinhardt Jan 3 at 23:00
  • @rpreinhardt. Noun clause or not, the sentence does not make sense. when is the stowing happening? When is the needing happening? It is all over the place. – JeremyC Jan 3 at 23:05
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    @JeremyC The sentence makes perfect sense in a certain context. Harry might well have stowed into his trunk everything he needs for his forthcoming camping trip. See previous answers on this issue: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/149079/… english.stackexchange.com/questions/174751/… – Ronald Sole Jan 3 at 23:13

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