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In some websites, there are sticky ads with slogans like these:

  1. Close the door tight and start playing this game!
  2. Make sure no one knows you are playing this game!

The second sentence sounds kind of weird to me. Why doesn't it say,

  1. Make sure no one will know you are playing this game!

After all, if someone knows you are playing this game, that's because you didn't close the door tight- you didn't make sure/haven't made sure ****. The idea here is that the current situation depends on the past. You can't control what happens now, you can only control what will happen.

Does Sentence 2 sounds weird to a native speaker too? Is Sentence 3 better than Sentence 2? If both are weird, how should the ad rephrase the sentence?

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  • For what it's worth, I've always been highly suspicious that lots of those game ads are created by a computer program. The grammar is sometimes so off, at the very least there's no real editor checking quality.
    – BruceWayne
    Dec 3, 2022 at 22:22
  • Grammatically? No. But it sure does seem a weird advertising strategy to want to keep a product obscure. (Unless it’s a reverse-psychology thing…) Dec 4, 2022 at 16:09
  • I suppose from an order-of-operations perspective you're right, because most things you might do to prevent others from finding out, would be done before you actually start playing the game. But from a grammatical perspective, no, I don't think this phrasing is strange at all. Dec 4, 2022 at 19:20

4 Answers 4

10

You're chopping the meat much too finely. (I hope that that expression makes sense.) The actions occur at approximately the same time, and there is no need to use different tenses for actions that are so closely related.

In fact, it is not even clear that closing the door occurs before making sure. Part of making sure could involve checking whether anyone sees that you're playing the game; that would occur before closing the door. Because the sequence of events is not entirely clear, and the events occur in such close proximity, it is fine for both verbs to be in the same tense.

Sentences 2 and 3 are both correct, but #2 sounds more natural. Here is an ngram from Google Books showing that it is much more common1:

enter image description here


1 I had to omit "make" due to Google's word limit, so this graph might pick up "be sure no one knows", etc. However, even in that case the principle would be the same, so I think that this graph still demonstrates that the tenses in #2 are more common than those in #3.

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  • You can squeeze the extra word into Ngrams if you replace "no one" with "nobody", and the "will" version disappears entirely
    – gotube
    Dec 3, 2022 at 18:09
  • @gotube Thanks! That's a good hack. Dec 3, 2022 at 19:34
  • @gotube That is indeed better. I didn't find the Ngrams in the answer very convincing, because they also include declarative forms like "I am sure no one knows/will know", which are rather different from the idea of making sure.
    – nanoman
    Dec 4, 2022 at 6:57
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Sentence 2 sounds perfectly natural and is the normal way to phrase it. Sentence 3 does not sound natural or fluent.

The imperative is kind of "timeless": it is saying "make sure nobody knows" at any time you are playing the game - now, in the future, any time. So it doesn't fit with will, which is about the future.

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  • 1
    Sentence 3 sounds natural and fluent, especially if it's (implicitly) expanded slightly to "Close the door to make sure no one will know you are playing this game!" or as a you-understood command (which would imply that closing the door is only one possible action that must be taken). From the question, I think that either interpretation is valid in the context I infer the querent is referencing.
    – minnmass
    Dec 3, 2022 at 23:50
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Sentence 2 sounds natural to me. It would be very unusual to use the future tense in a sentence like that. The construction “will be playing this game” is not something we’d normally say. We avoid using multiple helper verbs when we don’t have to. “Make sure nobody finds out that you [play/are playing] this game!” would also work.

Another good alternative is to use an imperative (or jussive) to introduce an infinitive: “Let no one know that you play this game!” That’s a bit more formal and old-fashioned.

You could also say, “Make sure that no one knows that you are playing the game.” This makes it easier to see the nested subordinate clauses of this complex sentence, and parse it. However, we usually drop the word that in sentences like this.

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I think it depends on the genre of the text, a slogan often use present tense and describe something that you need to be doing all the time not for some sudden discoveries.

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