1) "I had always thought that once you grew up you could do anything you wanted - stay up all night or eat ice-cream straight out of the container" ( one of Bill Bryson quotes)

2) "My boss is a nice man once you get to know him."(from cambridge grammar today)

Could it be "once you grow up" in the first sentence ?

I doubt the first sentence is grammatically correct but then who am I to question Bill Bryson.I would be grateful if someone can walk me through over this

1 Answer 1


Bryson is correct. The entire clause that once you grew up you could do anything you wanted is in the past tense because it's the subject of the verb "thought." The act of thinking takes place in the past, so the things he's thinking about also take place in the past, even if the concepts themselves are timeless.

To put another spin on it, imagine he wrote the clause in the present tense instead:

I had always thought that once you grow up you can do anything you want.

The problem is that the present is a specific point in time. Now young Bryson in the past is, for some reason, thinking about this specific day in his distant future. This is obviously nonsensical, so we need to write it from his perspective in the past.

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    While I agree there's nothing wrong with original sentence, I don't agree that your revised sentence is nonsensical. I've always had a certain thought: Once somebody grows up they can do anything they want. That's just a different way of phrasing it, but the verb tenses are still the same—and still fine. The thought itself is independent of the time at which it's thought. Apr 12, 2019 at 6:13
  • @JasonBassford That only works because you changed the main tense from past perfect to present perfect. Apr 12, 2019 at 7:05
  • The tense in the main part doesn't matter either (at least not that particular one): I had always thought this: Once somebody grows up they can do anything they want. Apr 12, 2019 at 12:51
  • @JasonBassford But setting it apart from the sentence like that changes the rules. You're making it into a direct, quoted thought and changing it from a subordinate clause to an independent one. Apr 14, 2019 at 2:01

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