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Let's consider the following sentences :

He didn't know that we will soon buy a new house.
He didn't know that we would soon buy a new house.

I believe that both of them are gramatically correct, but they express different things.
In the first case the action refers to the future i.e. he wasn't aware that in the near future we are going to buy a new house. The second one has the same meaning, but in this case the action of buying the house is in the past i.e. we have already bought it. I would like to know if I am right.

4
  • He didn't know that we will soon buy a new house. [buzzer]
  • He didn't know that we would soon buy a new house. [good]

  • He didn't know we were going to buy a new house. [all past: good]

  • He didn't know we intended to buy a new house. [all past: good]

That's said, I would say:

  • He didn't know the moon looks red at that time of year. [past + present: OK]
  • He didn't know the moon looked red at that time of year.

So, simple past plus present is OK. Simple past plus will is not standard.

Simple past in the main clause pretty much forecloses the use of will in the second.

Please note: He didn't know we would soon buy a new house.

says nothing about whether or not a house was actually bought. If the house had been bought, the sentence would be:

He didn't know we bought a new house OR had bought a new house.

  • I would add that use of simple past + future might be colloquial. You will hear English-speakers use it but it would be frowned upon even in casual oral English. – urnonav Sep 24 at 14:00
  • @urnonav No, it is not colloquial. It is agrammatical. – Lambie Sep 24 at 14:09
  • @Lambie thank you! So, by using "would" instead of "will", does the sentence still imply that the action of buying the house may not have happened yet? – Math Guy Sep 24 at 14:11
  • @Lambie, I'm not arguing the ungrammatical characterisation. I do hear native English speakers mix and match quite often (much to the chagrin of my somewhat obsessive mind). – urnonav Sep 24 at 14:12
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    @urnonav Yes, they mix and match but this would not be a usual one at all. – Lambie Sep 24 at 14:24
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You are quite correct, with one small nuance.

He didn't know that we would soon buy a new house.

This most likely refers to an event (the house purchase) that is already in the past, as the question described. But it could be part of a hypothetical sequence in which the purchase never took place, but had things gone differently it would have happened in the alternate past.

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