According to this link, the verb tense in the subordinate clause can be either present or past tense when the main clause's verb is in past tense IF the fact stated in the subordinate clause still holds true. The linked article clarifies the point by claiming that the sentence (1)

He said, "I like coffee." (1)

can be changed into either (2a) or (2b) if his liking for coffee is still strong:

He said (that) he liked coffee. (2a)

He said (that) he likes coffee. (2b)

Then it hit me that whether this optionality can be applied or not to the following case, namely, where the verb in the main clause is in past tense in the negative form:

He didn't say, "I like coffee." (3)

I'm not sure if (4a) and (4b) are both acceptable ways to express the same idea of (3) given that he likes coffee at the present time.

He didn't say he liked coffee. (4a)

He didn't say he likes coffee. (4b)

To eliminate the possible confusion caused by the vagueness of the sentences (4a)/(4b), let's assume that the stress falls on the second word: "He didn't say he liked/likes coffee."

  • I am not a native, but I think the negating didn't does not have influence on the general concept that you explained above. I mean, (4a) implies you are not sure that he does not like coffee now and (4b) implies that you are sure that he does not like it at the moment of reporting.
    – Cardinal
    Jul 3, 2016 at 14:06
  • @AlanCarmack Thanks for correcting me. I've edited the part you pointed out.
    – curiosity
    Jul 3, 2016 at 14:35
  • @Cardinal Thanks for sharing your insight. I'm still confused. Something is off with my reasoning, but I can't pinpoint it. I will get back to it after sleeping on it.
    – curiosity
    Jul 3, 2016 at 14:59

1 Answer 1


like = 1st person present

likes = 3rd person present

You should use (b) on both to keep the tenses the same, but people would very often use both, because they are so similar. The difference would only rarely be important or noticeable.

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