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Example 1

It is/was nice that you told me these details.

Example 2

It is/was crazy that he did not attend school for a whole month.

Example 3

It is/was ridiculous that she did not go on the road trip with her best friends.

I understand the usage of "dummy it".

However, I don't know whether I should use past tense or present tense in these examples.

3 Answers 3

17

In many circumstances, where the verb is in the past tense, you can use either.

If it was crazy at the time and it remains crazy now, then either will apply. And that seems to be the case with all three examples you quote.

However, in a sentence such as When it started to rain, it was helpful to have an umbrella, it was helpful at the time, but it no longer remains helpful - since the sun is now shining. Therefore one wouldn't use is.

Indeed even if it was still raining one would still use was because one would have been describing the circumstances when the rain started, and it may or may not have stopped raining. However it was crazy and remains crazy that he did not attend school for a whole month.

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  • However, "When it starts to rain, it is helpful to have an umbrella" is perfectly good. You would not use "was" in that context. There are two clauses here, and they should agree in tense. "It was nice that you told me these details" and "It is nice that you tell me these details" are in different situations. Although neither version that the OP says is incorrect, that is because informal English accepts both, because it happened in the past, but the speaker is talking about his present.
    – Wastrel
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 20:27
  • 1
    @Wastrel Yes, you are correct about "When it starts to rain, it is helpful to have an umbrella". But that is unremarkable because the verbs match. Both are present tense. I think what was concerning the OP was that where something took place in the past, that a present-tense consequence could also be used.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 5:54
6

You can use either verb tense without being wrong. There is a slightly different connotation between the two phrasings, but it's very minor and won't interfere with understanding. In general, using is indicates that you're continuing to feel the same way you did before, while was puts distance between you (as the speaker today) and the events of this time in the past.

As an example:
"It is crazy that he did not attend school for a whole month." You thought so at the time, and you continue to think so. There's an implication in this that you still think he's a pretty odd guy. You're embracing that prior opinion as your current feeling.

"It was crazy that he did not attend school for a whole month." You may still think it was a strange thing to do, but using was puts some distance between how you feel today and what you thought back then. There's a possible implication that "back then, he was kind of weird, but he's settled down now".

Or in your third example,
"It is/was ridiculous that she did not go on the road trip with her best friends."

Using is suggests that you're annoyed about this, while was suggests that you've given up on trying to understand it and just accept that she did something you think was dumb.

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I'd like to look at example 3 first. She did not go on a road trip. That's indisputably in the past. However, the main sentence concerns not the road trip the ridiculousness of not going. And the question you have to ask yourself when deciding between "is" and "was" (because they are both valuid English) is what you want to convey to those who will hear or read the sentence.

Do you want to convey that you're still outraged? Then it is ridiculous that she did not go. Do you want to convey that you were baffled when you first heard of her refusal? Then it was ridiculous that she did not go.

In the second example you can apply mostly the same argument. If the main point you want to get across concerns your feelings now, then it is crazy, while "was crazy" talks about your feelings on this matter in the past.

And again in example 1. Although in that particular case, I think it is much more common to use "was". But not for any English reasons, but more because it is common to tell the other person that the act of telling them the details made you happy back then.

Maybe a rephrasing can help you decide on a tense. Here we focus on your emotions as a speaker rather than "objective" characterisations of the events in question:

Example 1:

You told me the details, and it makes/made me happy.

Example 2:

He didn't attend school for a whole month, and that baffles/baffled me.

Example 3:

She didn't join her friends on the road trip, and that makes/made no sense to me.

Whatever tense you pick in these examples (and it doesn't have to be the same one each time), you should pick the same tense in your examples.

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