I made this "trick" question and posted it on Facebook, and then I started questioning my use of "gave." I'm suposed to reveal that the correct answer is seven, because the second sentence describes only past events, so it doesn't affect the present time (the fact that I HAVE seven cookies). My question is, can it be argued that "gave" actually refers to present, and that my answer is wrong?


You're home free.

Have and gave both head declarative, unmodalized 'main' clauses. There is no stronger contrast of temporal reference in English than that between main-clause present form and main-clause past form; and this past-form gave is in fact reinforced by the presence of a past perfect construction in the subordinate clause.

There is no room here for interpreting I gave &c as anything but a past-tense clause whose action lies prior to your current possession of seven cookies.

  • Well, that's a relief. – Sherlock Aug 24 '14 at 14:12
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    @Sherlock Gave could only be understood as 'subjunctive' in a subordinate clause, a conditional: If I gave.... This could be expressed in older English without the if, but even there it would require inversion: Gave I... – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 24 '14 at 14:15

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