sequence of tense of relative pronoun

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Amycar

New Member
Japanese
-What is the subject that your father liked the best when he was a student?
-The subject I studied the hardest when I was a student was mathematics.

I read two sentences in an English text book. They were on different pages so they are not related to each other.
They are very similar, but the first one says: what "is" the subject, and the second one say "was mathematics".
What are the differences when present and past tense are combined or both in past tense?
 
  • Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Both sentences are correct. The first could have the relative pronoun 'that' left out.

    -What is the subject (that) your father liked the best when he was a student?
    -The subject I studied the hardest when I was a student was mathematics.

    There is no relation between verb tenses and relative pronouns.
    ... sequence of tense of relative pronouns
    Could you please explain in other words what is puzzling you?
     

    Amycar

    New Member
    Japanese
    Hi, thank you for your answer.

    I wanted to know the differences between:

    ・What "was" the subject that your father liked the best when he "was" a student?(past + past)
    ・What "is" the subject that your father liked the best when he "was" a student?(present + past)

    ・The subject I "studied" the hardest when I was a student "was" mathematics.(past + past)
    ・The subject I "studied" the hardest when I was a student "is" mathematics.(past + present)
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Welcome to the forum!

    I'd say both sentences would still be correct if you were to swap is and was. Past tense is obviously justified in both cases because both situations are in the past, but present tense is justified because, in the first example, the answer to the question still is astronomy (or whatever). In the second example, we might have asked what subject I studied hardest, and the answer to that question is mathematics. Although both questions are about the past, they are being asked now, in the present, and have answers in the present.

    On the other hand, is does seem to suit the first example better because astronomy might still be the father's favourite subject now, even though he is no longer studying it, and was is better in the second because now that I am no longer a student I am no longer studying any subject the hardest.
     

    Amycar

    New Member
    Japanese
    Hello Edinburgher,

    Thank you for the quick response. Now I got the idea and they have slightly different shades of meaning!

    I appreciate you two, Edinburgher and Hermione:)
     
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