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"Tom talked about the phenomenon that youngsters like going shopping nowadays has sparked off a debate." Is this sentence grammatically correct? First, I would like to know whether that can connect two clauses like that. Without the last part "has sparked off a debate", it's probably correct.

Second, I reckon the tense use is correct despite three tenses in a sentence, otherwise please let me know.

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  • No, your text isn't syntactically valid. The actual assertion Tom talked about the phenomenon that youngsters like going shopping nowadays is a perfectly good sentence, but you can't use that as the subject in the construction [Something] has sparked off a debate. I don't know what you're getting at about verb tenses, but treating this as a "proofreading" exercise (Off Topic), I would suggest changing phenomenon to fact, then insert COMMA + which after nowadays (which imho is a bit "folksy", so I'd change that to today as well). Apr 11, 2023 at 11:32
  • No. It's not grammatical. The tenses aren't the problem. The usual way to construct something like this would be to say "[Something happened], which has sparked off a debate".
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 11, 2023 at 11:50

2 Answers 2

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The question was answered (I believe correctly) in the comments:

No the sentence is not grammatical. The tenses aren't the problem. The usual way to construct something like this would be to say "[Something happened], which has sparked off a debate". Add the pronoun "which".

The actual assertion "Tom talked about the phenomenon that youngsters like going shopping nowadays" is a perfectly good sentence. But you can't use that as the subject in the construction "[Something] has sparked off a debate."

I reckon the tense use is correct despite three tenses in a sentence

In a long sentence that includes various parts, there is no rule whatsoever that all the tenses must match. Consider: "He said, that they will go". Past + future.

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  • Shouldn't it be "He said that they would go" as an indirect statement?
    – hellokitty
    Apr 12, 2023 at 12:35
  • @hellokitty it appears that modifying the tense in reported speech is called backshifting. Researching this topic, backshifting can be optional. Is it required that "they will go" must be switched to "they would go", no matter what? A grammar question... I think it depends on the situation and the choice of the speaker.
    – Sam
    Apr 12, 2023 at 14:24
  • I get it now;).
    – hellokitty
    Apr 12, 2023 at 19:46
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This particular use of 'that' (at least, as far as I can tell) is as a pronoun to introduce a restrictive relative clause, for example "the phenomenon that caused the dinosaurs to die out".

But your whole statement is an ungrammatical mess. What is the phenomenon - that 'youngsters like shopping', or that there is a debate about it? There is no point in addressing your supplemental question about tenses unless it made sense.

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  • I don't understand your words.
    – hellokitty
    Apr 12, 2023 at 20:05

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