1
  1. I told her that I like/liked her yesterday.

  2. I told the girl that I liked/like how I feel/felt about her yesterday.

My understanding of the examples above is that if I still like the girl/woman whom I talked to yesterday, I should use the present tense, like. But if for some reason I don't like this girl/woman anymore, I should use the past tense, liked and also felt (in the second example).

Alternatively, I guess I can also say, Yesterday, I told her that I have liked her since I first saw her, if I want to emphasize the period of time during which I've liked her.

Are these distinctions correct?

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For your example #1, the only correct version is to use "liked". The sentence refers to how you felt yesterday. It does not include how you feel today.

For example #2, the only correct usage is "felt". Again, because you are referring to a past time. However, in this example, you could use either "like" or "liked". The meaning of the sentence could change, depending on which you used. To use "liked" in this sentence could be used as a double-entendre, or to hide your current emotional state. It is a pretty subtle thing - so your listener would need to be alert to such possible meanings. It could also be a "diplomatic" way of informing someone that your current feelings have changed. Also, the #2 sentence does not indicate that you like or used to like the person - since you only mention that you like(d) your "feelings yesterday". It could be applied if you were very angry with the person, but liked that anger!

Your alternate usage is perfect. So, to answer your question:

Are these distinctions correct?

No, the distinctions in the first 2 examples are not correct. However, it appears to me that in the alternate version you have realized that to express the "like" action over time, you need to change your sentence structure slightly, to indicate that "this was true then, and it is also true now".

  • I think the word "yesterday" is changing the meaning of what I want to say. What if I drop yesterday and replace her with a random name in sentence #1 and say, I told Jane that I like/liked her? Would my distinction be valid now? I mean, If I still like Jane, should I use like, or should I still use liked? – Luke Oct 29 '15 at 23:49
  • About sentence 2: I see, that's strange and not what I intended to say. Here's the original sentence I found on a website: "I told the girl I liked how I felt about her." I just changed it a little, but I wanted to convey the same meaning ("indicate that I like or used to like the person"). When I first read the original sentence, I understood that the guy told the girl whom he used to like what his feelings were for her, but that he doesn't like her anymore and doesn't feel the same things for her now. And I took it to mean that because he used simple past in his sentence. – Luke Oct 29 '15 at 23:52
  • So, if the guy who wrote this sentence still likes the girl in question and still feels the same way about her, shouldn't he use the present tense (like or feel) instead? – Luke Oct 29 '15 at 23:54
  • If you drop yesterday, then either usage is correct, and neither would specifically mean that the liking had stopped. Using "liked" could be taken to mean the liking was no longer the case, but in common usage, it would need to be clarified. I would suggest something more akin to "I used to like her", which is more specific. – Corvus B Oct 30 '15 at 16:38
  • With sentence #2: But as for liking, I would take the original for sentence 2 to mean that he still liked her. He is indicating a current state of liking, and if he no longer liked the person, then he would not be happy about having liked the other person in the past. Unless there is additional context! Sentence #2 is sufficiently sophisticated in structure that you could change the meaning by changing the context. I think common usage for "liked" is not as specific as the simple past of a more active verb (e.g. run / ran). One often needs to add a clarifier (e.g. I once liked her). – Corvus B Oct 30 '15 at 16:49

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