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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 12th, 2012, 09:33 pm
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Default is/was? why?

there is a sentence about tenses which I know how to use but do not know why.

A teenager studying in a non-English department asked me a question: in 1921 is/ was the year he was born in, which word verb inflection should be used?

I told him that WAS should be used because the time is past.

here comes a problem which I cannot solve:

when we say we did sth, it is because the action is past; but when we say the year 1921 is/was... , we are stating a fact, which is no action, and this fact is still true, because that guy is still a person born in 1921!!

could anyone solve the problem?
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  #2 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 13th, 2012, 03:18 am
Sue
 
Join Date: Oct 8th, 2006
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Default Re: is/was? why?

Both could occur - this sentence would occur in a context where the speaker was correcting a mistake and the "permanent truth" of the fact might be more in his/her mind than the "pastness" of the year. So the conversation might go...

A : I read that XXX left the States in 1921.
B : 1921?? No - 1921 is the year he was born. He left America in 1935.
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  #3 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 13th, 2012, 07:25 pm
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Default Re: is/was? why?

this question has aroused my curiosity.

how about if I was simply writing a biography and telling the childhood years of that person? Is 1921 is the year he was born in possible?

when this person is still alive or dead, should there be any change in the main verb?
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  #4 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 14th, 2012, 04:01 am
Sue
 
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Default Re: is/was? why?

"in" sounds clumsy here - notice I omitted it in the example.

The point is that by fronting "1921" it's receiving contrastive emphasis, as in my example. The speaker is saying, No - not 1921 but 1925. If there is no contrastive emphasis of this sort, the normal word order would be : He was born in 1921.

Whether the person is alive or dead makes no difference.
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  #5 (permalink)  
Unread Jul 21st, 2012, 08:42 pm
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Default Re: is/was? why?

thank you very much indeed
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