Should the following sentence use a present tense or past tense verb given the condition still exists?

I have been eating something that was/is unhealthy.

Since "have been" is a past perfect tense, I feel like it's appropriate to use "was" but then again the conditions still exist.

  • Native speakers often / usually "backshift" in contexts like this (since have been eating refers to past activity, we tend to "echo" this with was unhealthy). It's much the same as He said his name was Smith (usually, it still is, but we don't often say that). Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 14:17

1 Answer 1


The appropriate word is "is" if the thing is currently unhealthy. It's only the act of eating that occurred in the past, and that's what the "have been" applies to.

The sentence

I have been eating something that was unhealthy.

implies that the "something" you used to eat is no longer unhealthy, which has a different meaning.

  • 1
    I would get round the problem by just saying 'something unhealthy' - unless the food was unhealthy because that particular portion had gone off, which presumably isn't what you mean. Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 10:52

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