A tree stood in the middle of the plain, around which the children play.

A tree stood in the middle of the plain around which the children played.

I thought these two are near synonymous, with the first one meaning that the children play there to this day on a recurrent basis, and the other meaning that they used to play there, but no longer.

So are these two sentences grammatically correct, and more importantly the first one with a tense mismatch correct?

I don't know why, but someone told me there shouldn't be a tense mismatch in the same sentence. I don't think this is true.

  • 1
    Either way, this sentence is awkward for another reason: the antecedent of "which" is unclear. Logically, I would presume that the children are playing around the tree, but "the plain" is closer and therefore creates uncertainty in interpreting the sentence. – Katy Feb 5 '19 at 1:25

It is not true that all verbs in a sentence must have the same tense. If you mean to indicate two different time frames in the same sentence, then the verb tenses should reflect the meaning, and they don't have to match.

A tree stands in the middle of the plain, around which the children played.

The verb tenses here sound fine. It means that the tree is there now and has been there for a long time, and in the past children used to play around it (but they don't play there now).

Picky people might claim that since "around which" follows directly after "the plain", it sounds like its object is "the plain", and not "the tree". In that case the children would be playing "around the plain."

But assuming you mean the children to be playing around the trunk of the tree, it is confusing to hear

A tree stood in the middle of the plain, around which the children play.

not because of the mismatch in verb tense, but because we imagine the present-day children playing around a tree which is not there now.

However, if you really do mean to have the children playing around on the plain (and not around the tree), you should phrase their location in a slightly different way.

A tree stood in the middle of the plain on which the children play.


A tree stood in the middle of the plain where the children play.


The mismatch in the first one does sounds awkward to me. If you want to avoid the mismatch, you could rewrite it as:

A tree stands in the middle of the plain, around which the children play.

  • but is it wrong though? I keep getting different answer for this question strangely enough. – repomonster Feb 5 '19 at 0:34

In creative writing, any imaginable tense mismatch is "allowed" as long as it fits the context. However, your sentence is odd because there is no context to explain the mismatch. If this is a typical past-tense narrative, then it makes no sense to use the present tense without justifying the use of the present tense in some way. For example:

A tree stood in the middle of the plain, the kind of tree around which children like to play

In this case the present tense makes sense because the description of the tree is timeless. It's not saying that children are playing there, merely that they might choose to play there now and then.

Note also I changed it from "the children" to just "children". The definite article specifies a particular group of children who exist in the the time frame of the standing tree. In this case it's confusing to talk about them in a timeless way, because it's not clear from the limited context when or where they exist.

Assuming this is a typical narrative in either the present or the past tense, then then tenses should match:

The tree stands/stood and the children play/played around it.

It is possible to write a story in which the time frame is all jumbled, where you might mix past and present tenses in clever ways. But this is not typical, difficult to do well, and likely to confuse the reader.

In more formal, expository writing, you should avoid clever writing tricks like this, as your goal is either to inform or persuade, and anything that might confuse the reader will usually detract from this goal.

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.