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I came across these two sentences and asked myself whether I could always use both versions:

I didn't know Ed was Welsh.
Did you know that Cliff's wife is Canadian?

Both relates to someone's nationality. I assume both people still live. So could I say I didn't know Ed is Welsh? Or as I know now - do I have to use the simple past (was) here?

marked as duplicate by Nathan Tuggy, choster, ColleenV, M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ, JavaLatte Mar 30 '16 at 16:52

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  • 2
    Technically you should say "I didn't know Ed is Welsh" because although you not knowing is a past event, Ed is presumably still Welsh and hasn't become South African while you weren't looking. Most people would use "was" though to avoid switching tense, I think. – John Clifford Mar 30 '16 at 14:46
  • Oh thank you Usernew! I should proof read my comments before I post them! Sorry. How can I mark sentences in yellow? – Corrina_Corrina Mar 30 '16 at 14:47
  • Thanks John Clifford! I read it (both sentences) in a book on English vocab. Still, I wondered the usage. – Corrina_Corrina Mar 30 '16 at 14:49
  • To answer your other question, it's a blockquote: You can insert one by starting the line with ">". – John Clifford Mar 30 '16 at 14:51
  • 4
    Either one. Native speakers use was here all the time. Was here does not mean that Ed is no longer Welsh unless you say that directly. Consider: I didn't know 2 plus 2 was 4. You are reporting on a past state of knowledge, so it's okay to use was. You can use is if what you are saying is still true at the time you say it. – Alan Carmack Mar 30 '16 at 14:53

Mixing present and past happens in some occassions. You can use present simple instead of a past tense when something is permanently true as in

He taught me that knowledge is power.

He told me the Earth goes round the sun.

He said he loves icecream.

In your example also if the guy said that he was Welsh, he's still Welsh I suppose at least till next time that I see him to make sure he's still Welsh or has taken refuge in another country to be the national of that country.

You can use both sentences then:

I didn't know Ed was Welsh.

I didn't know Ed is Welsh.

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