Sequence of tenses for facts irrelevant of the moment of speech

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Let's consider two sentences:

(1) I suggested that the word zeitgeist was of German origin.
(2) The lecturer said the Pluto's orbital period is more than 200 years.

In both cases, the facts are always valid and irrelevant of the moment of speech and context. I've heard sequence of tenses is not required in such cases. Are past and present tenses interchangeable in both of them? Would it be correct to say:

(1) I suggested that the word zeitgeist is of German origin.
(2) The lecturer said the Pluto's orbital period was more than 200 years.

olegst

Posted 2017-05-17T12:57:03.753

Reputation: 1 256

Your last two sentences and the first ones are different. Simply, the past time means something may be no longer valid! *"Pluto's orbital period was more than 200 years."* conveys ambiguity on the current status. – Cardinal – 2017-05-17T13:18:17.730

1The past tense is silent with respect to whether the past assertion is now true. There is no implication that it is or may be no longer valid. "I suggested that the word zeitgeist was of German origin" is simply a statement of what was suggested, without reference to the present. You do not have to change was to is if your intention is to recount or relate what you had suggested. If, however, you wish to reassert your position, then you can change was to is, and change the past tense to present perfect: I've suggested that the word 'zeitgeist' is of German origin. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2017-05-17T14:14:07.413

Answers

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There is no grammatical requirement, when reporting what was said in the past, to use the present tense if the assertion is true in the present.

The professor said Pluto took more than 200 Earth-years to orbit the sun.

All that sentence does is report what the professor said, without reference to the truth of the assertion; it is perfectly valid regardless of the truth or falsehood of the assertion about Pluto.

If your intention is purely to report what was said, it is best to use the past tense:

I said the word 'zeitgeist' was of German origin.

The professor said Pluto took more than 200 Earth-years to orbit the sun.

That said, speakers are often doing more than one thing simultaneously, especially when speaking in an impromptu manner, and a native speaker could easily make those statements using the present tense:

I said that the word 'zeitgeist' is of German origin.

and want you to understand two things thereby:

1) he said 'zeitgeist' was of German origin on a past occasion 2) he would say it again because his opinion is unchanged

The professor said Pluto takes more than 200 Earth-years to orbit the sun.

1) the professor made that claim 2) the speaker believes the professor and is passing the fact on to the listener

P.S. The native speaker wouldn't be consciously debating whether to use present tense or past tense.

Tᴚoɯɐuo

Posted 2017-05-17T12:57:03.753

Reputation: 116 610