I know that we use the present simple tense for general facts and truths, but I'm struggling with more complex sentences when I want to give an "order" for facts.

For example:

"Adults who have been at a public school are more/less motivated to learn new things than adults who have been at a private school."

What I mean by "order" is: I am speaking about adults (in general) and about their life history (something in their past). In my mother tongue (German), I could say a sentence like that, but I have to change this sentence completely in English, don't I? The reason is, that I can't use a past tense for general facts and truths, can I?

Do you have any rules or tips for me, on how I can say such a "German sentence" in English?

I haven't found any answer for this question on the internet or on this forum yet. Hence, I would highly appreciate any kind of help.

2 Answers 2


Your sentence seems fine to me, except that I wouldn't put a comma after adults. This makes it look as though who have been at a public school is a description of adults in general, rather than an identifier of a particular group.

Women, who are generally shorter than men, may find it difficult to reach...

Men who are shorter than average may find it difficult to reach...

The fact that you are referring to past experiences makes no difference at all.

  • Thank you! So, I can generalize that I can use past tenses in a relative clause like that even if I speak about a "rule or general fact" because the relative clause itself is not the "general fact" but only something I use to identify a particular group? Therefore, the following sentence should be also correct. I'm telling a child a rule: We don't wear the same clothes, which we wore the day before.
    – Dome9977
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 9:43
  • Yes, that's correct (except that it would be the same as rather than which). Commented May 1, 2022 at 12:50
  • according to dictionary.cambridge.org/de/grammatik/british-grammar/… "the same + noun + clause" it should be "the same clothes that" or less common: "the same clothes which"
    – Dome9977
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 16:47
  • OK, 'the same clothes that' (without the comma!) - but I still find 'the same clothes which' unidiomatic. Commented May 2, 2022 at 8:07

The sentence is fine as is - except for a couple of unrelated points: One goes to school, not at school, and "public school" is ambiguous if you are writing for an international audience (and means the exact opposite of what you intend if you are writing for a British reader)

You could also use past tense in the relative clauses, with very little difference in meaning, and I'd probably prefer the past tense, as there is an implicit time "when they were children".

  • But one is at a school (though I agree that went to or attended would be more idiomatic). Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 18:56

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