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Which tense should be used in the following?

He is/was a former classmate of mine.

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    Both are valid, meaningful sentences; it depends on context, and what you're trying to say. So: what is the context, and what are you trying to say?
    – ruakh
    Jul 31, 2021 at 15:34
  • Downvoted because asker did not clarify the context after request.
    – LoremIpsum
    Aug 1, 2021 at 16:30

4 Answers 4

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If you're speaking in a past tense you would say 'was', but if you are speaking in the present tense it's 'is'. Since you are currently describing him in the present as a former classmate, you would say "he is a former classmate." If you want to say what he was, you would say "he was a classmate."

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    Re: "you are currently describing him in the present as a former classmate": How can you tell?
    – ruakh
    Jul 31, 2021 at 15:34
  • @Barmar That is logically true, but irrelevant to the grammar. If you say "He is a former classmate, and ten years ago we founded a company together" the mixture of present and past tenses are confusing. (The company was not founded ten years ago because he is still a former classmate now.) "He was a former classmate..." would be better. On the other hand "He is a former classmate, and we are now co-directors of a company we founded 10 years ago" would be fine.
    – alephzero
    Jul 31, 2021 at 17:01
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    "If you're speaking in a past tense, 'was'. If the present tense, 'is'." Looks like some sort of circular argument. He is asking precisely about which tense to use in this situation. You give no hint as to how to choose it. I really wonder how this has been upvoted six times.
    – LoremIpsum
    Jul 31, 2021 at 23:39
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The rule in this case is simple.

If the person you are describing is alive, you should say: he is a former classmate of mine.

If the person you are describing is dead, you should say: he was a former classmate of mine.

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    This is not entirely correct. It's true that if the person is dead, then we say "was" (the implication being "[...] when he was alive"); but that's not the only situation where we say "was".
    – ruakh
    Jul 31, 2021 at 15:31
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    He was a former classmate, then we decided to start a company together Jul 31, 2021 at 16:51
  • If the person is dead, certainly "was" would be the correct form. If alive, either form could be used, although "former" along with "was" is a bit redundant. Thus, either "he is a former classmate..." or "he was a classmate...", so long as from the context it's clear that he is still alive.
    – Phil Perry
    Jul 31, 2021 at 19:42
  • @ruakh I don't see how it is helpful to say "that's not the only situation where we say 'was'" without giving at least one of such situations as an example to prove your point.
    – LoremIpsum
    Jul 31, 2021 at 23:36
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    @SyedDanishAmar: I see that I've offended you. That was not my intention; I'm sorry.
    – ruakh
    Aug 1, 2021 at 16:38
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A former classmate is someone who was a classmate in the past, but they're no t a classmate now.

Normally you would use "is". If someone was a former classmate in the past, they're still a former classmate now.

An exception would be if you were classmates in the past, stopped being classmates (one of you graduated, changed schools, etc.), and then became classmates again, and you still are classmates. Then you need to use the past tense to refer to the time when you were not classmates.

Last month he was a former classmate. Now we are classmates again.

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"Former classmate" is a status that someone either has or does not have at any given moment in time. As with other sentences, the tense is primarily driven by what you are trying to communicate. It may be a bit more confusing here because the term "former classmate" involves events that are in the past relative to the time at which the status applies.

If you are talking about the person's current status (present tense), you can say

He is a former classmate.

meaning he was a classmate some time ago and is no longer a classmate. If you are talking about the person's status at a previous time (past tense), you can say

He was a former classmate.

meaning he was a classmate some time before the time you are talking about and was no longer a classmate at the time you are talking about.

So, "former" has its own temporal meaning that layers on top of whatever tense you use.

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