This all happened 8 days ago. (let's say from the present day) I was sitting on the couch, watching the game when my wife stormed in screaming that an outside had managed his way into our house.

the next thing I know, I'm tied to a chair, and two of my fingers are missing.

the next thing I know, I was tied to a chair, and two of my fingers were missing.

the next thing I knew, I was tied to a chair, and two of my fingers were missing.

which of the above highlighted sentences are grammatically correct, and go well with the story?

Could you form three sentences using the next thing I knew part? Is it okay if I use the first one?

  • IMO,the first and second ones are good when someone is narrating a story and others are listening, the first one helps to dramatize it better. But if I am reading a first person story, I prefer the third one more.
    – user33000
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:11
  • Not part of your question, but "an outsider" would usually be called "a stranger" in this context, and the verb-phrase "managed his way into our house" would be "managed to break into our house".
    – TimR
    Jul 1, 2016 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


Context, context, context!

I take it that this sentence occurs within a longer narrative cast primarily in the past tense, and that the narrative transcribes or emulates oral delivery.

Oral narrative is marked by frequent shifts from the "base" past tense to present tense and back again. There are no "rules" governing when you should shift, or for how long—a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, an episode—so all of these sentences are acceptable in this genre.

As a matter of narrative strategy, however, it's generally a Good Thing to have some sort of reason for any device you employ. (A fundamental rule in all the performing arts is "It doesn't matter what you do as long as it looks like you did it on purpose".) The typical purpose behind use of the present tense in a past-tense narrative is to make a specific passage more immediate and exciting. If that's your aim, then

  • the first example makes the situation you found yourself in more immediate,
  • the third example leaves that situation "inside" the narrative, and
  • the middle example, where only "Next thing I know" is present-tensed, is a little odd—what you seem to want to make immediate is the abruptness with which the following state arose.

But that may not be your purpose at all. You may want to depict the speaker as an unskilful narrator or one who composes his thoughts out of scraps of literary cliché; or "next thing I know" may be a characteristic catch-phrase with which he routinely marks his climaxes. In any of these cases (and others you can imagine), the middle example would be entirely appropriate.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .