Which of the following two sentences is correct?

  1. He knew what it means.
  2. He knew what it meant.

Can we use the present simple tense with the past tense?

  • 2
    If it's still "meaningful" to talk about what it means, you can use the present tense. If the meaning was only really relevant to that time in the past when he knew it, use the past tense. Dec 29, 2020 at 14:10

1 Answer 1


It all depends on context!

He knew what joyeux Noel means. (Its meaning doesn't change.)

He knew what she meant when she said (...) (Her remark may have had a particular meaning at the moment when she made it.)

  • I agree, but it is also correct to say "He knew what joyeux Noël meant". I suspect many people would backshift to "meant", even though it might seem less logical.
    – rjpond
    Dec 29, 2020 at 15:08

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