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She refused meeting me, ignored my calls, and did her best so we don't/didn't cross paths at school.

I'm not sure whether I should use don't or didn't in the sentence above.

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  • I think your sentence should be rephrased. "We cross paths" sounds not quite correct to me. See 'cross somebody's path' idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cross+path. Maybe [...] best so that I could not cross her path.
    – user11470
    Nov 23, 2014 at 15:33
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    @Humbulani: You're mistaken - "We don't [often] cross paths" is a perfectly natural current usage, but "I don't [often] cross her path" isn't at all idiomatic. Nov 23, 2014 at 16:35
  • I'd use wouldn't instead of don't/didn't, removing the contractions: did her best so we do not cross paths/did not cross paths, would not follows the past tense of refused, ignored, and did, and doesn't reuse 'did'
    – Qwerty01
    Nov 23, 2014 at 23:38

4 Answers 4

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It really just depends on the relationship between "narrative time" (that you're writing/speaking about), and "utterance time" (when the statement is actually made).

That's to say, if it's relevant now (at time of speaking) that you still don't cross paths, present tense don't is appropriate. But if you're reminiscing (perhaps decades later) about your schooldays, say, then it's all in the past - so you'd use didn't.

Not directly relevant, but idiomatically, "She refused meeting me" is extremely unlikely/ungainly here. It would normally be "She refused to meet me".

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    I would argue (as I did in my answer) that the use of the past tense throughout means you are talking about the past. Plus "She did her best so we don't cross paths" just sounds wrong to my native ear. The mismatched tenses are just jarring.
    – trlkly
    Nov 23, 2014 at 19:37
  • @trlkly: I can't see why a native speaker should have a problem with using past tense to report something that happened, but present tense for the result if that result is still true and relevant. Temporally speaking, it's no different to "I am crying (now) because he hit me (then)" - for which "I cry because he hits me" just sounds like a typical nns error caused by trying to "regularise" the tense. Nov 23, 2014 at 20:12
  • And I don't understand how a native speaker can't immediately tell that it's wrong. That's why I assumed you weren't one. Your example that sounds okay is constructed completely differently. It uses present progressive, which is what you use for an action that is continuing. It also is constructed where the present comes first, which is far more normal. The structure of the OP's sentence is such that is it primarily cast in the past tense. If it continued into the present, the sentence would be "She does her best so that we don't cross paths." Both parts would continue to the present.
    – trlkly
    Nov 24, 2014 at 21:14
  • "Doing her best" is a continual action. If it's set in the past tense, it means it has been completed.
    – trlkly
    Nov 24, 2014 at 21:16
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    I don't see what the argument is here. How different is FumbleFinger's suggested scenario from "Our father sacrificed himself so that we don't go hungry" speaking of the present, or "... so that we wouldn't go hungry" keeping it in the past? It sounds perfectly "native" to me?
    – CocoPop
    Jul 13, 2015 at 0:38
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I'd just cast it differently

She refused to meet me, ignored my calls, and did her best to avoid us crossing paths at school.

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  • I'd go further and get rid of "us." Everything else is about me. So I'd say "She refused to meet me, ignored my calls, and did her best to avoid crossing paths with me at school."
    – trlkly
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:45
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It should be "didn't". The sentence up to this point has been in the past tense, so it wouldn't make sense to switch to present tense for this one verb. I would also change "did her best so we didn't cross paths" to "went out of her way to make sure we didn't cross paths"

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While I would prefer "didn't" to "don't" in this situation, I don't think either one is correct. The subordinating conjunction "so" calls out for the subjunctive. So the correct word would be "wouldn't."

She refused to meet me, ignored my calls, and did her best so we wouldn't cross paths.

There are, of course, other ways to cast the sentence. Someone I talked to suggested that "did her best to" is more idiomatic, so the sentence becomes

She refused to meet me, ignored my calls, and did her best to ensure we wouldn't cross paths.

Either way, "wouldn't" is the better word choice.

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  • In "If I were you, I would do such-and-such", it's were that's in the subjunctive, not would. Your rewording with auxiliary + infinitive (would/should+cross) is the more common in American English way of avoiding the subjunctive "...so [that] we not cross paths" Nov 25, 2014 at 1:38

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