RE: I thought...? page 2
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Forums · General English Grammar & Vocabulary, Listening & Speaking · General English Grammar Questions
AnonymousIf the 'I thought...' sentence is not explicitly followed by 'but...', would you more likely interpret it as a change of opinion, at first thought when you hear it?"When I first hear it, I do not interpret it as a change of opinion.
A change of opinion must be explicit. Usually this begins with but.
Yesterday I thought that she was my best friend. (There is no change of opinion in this sentence.)
But now I know she was only pretending to be my friend. I won't speak to her ever again. (Now here I state my change of opinion.)
Anonymous:Thank you, CJ and AlpheccaStars, for your explanations.
I came up with another example.
John: X is the answer to your question.
Mary: I thought the answer was Y.
In this context, does 'I thought' imply he was wrong about what he was thinking?
AnonymousIn this context, does 'I thought' imply he was wrong about what he was thinking?Yes. That's exactly what "I thought" often means. You don't have to add "but I was wrong", although you can.
-- John is a plumber.
-- Oh? I thought that he was a carpenter.
-- Susan speaks a foreign language -- German, I think.
-- Hmm. I thought she spoke French.
-- Richard has a piano lesson at 2:30.
-- That's strange. I thought his lesson was at 3:30.
Anonymous:Thank you, CJ.
That was actually the other question I had in my mind if 'but I was wrong' needed to be added. But as you've said 'often means', therefore it is not always the case because it could be just what a person was thinking at a specific time in the past like AlpheccaStars have explained.
Incidentally, is it sometimes possible to follow an "I thought..." sentence by a present tense in statement of facts.
Yesterday, my teacher asked me to give an example of current presidents, and I thought Obama is one of the current presidents.
Is the above example correct?
Do you think 'is' is more emphatic of its trueness at present?
Do you think 'was' is more idiomatic?
Which would you prefer?
AnonymousBut as you've said 'often means', therefore it is not always the caseTrue. Sometimes the implication is, "and I was right"!
-- You know, according to the newspapers, Obama is going to visit Japan next week.
-- That sounds familiar. I thought I heard that somewhere! (and I was right)
AnonymousIncidentally, is it sometimes possible to follow an "I thought..." sentence by a present tense in statement of facts.In my opinion it is very rare indeed to have had an opinion or belief (I thought) about a truth or fact (present tense). The two are contradictory, or, as I argue below, the truth of the proposition is irrelevant to the grammar.
Suppose we take the proposition that the earth is flat. Since we know through science that "The earth is flat" is false, must we never put it in the present tense? Must we say, "I think the earth was flat"? Or maybe "I think the earth will be flat"? Certainly not. It is perfectly grammatical to say, "I think the earth is flat". You are stating an opinion. From your point of view as the speaker, it is a statement of fact that the earth is flat.
Why then would we wish to do the reverse, namely, never to put "the earth is round" in the past tense? There is no logical reason. We simply match the tense of the proposition "earth ... round" or "earth ... flat" to the tense of the introductory words "I think", "I believe", "I thought", "I believed", etc.
I think the earth is flat.
I think the earth is round.
I thought the earth was flat.
I thought the earth was round.
The last two show the phenomenon known as "backshifting".
>>> Backshifting is always correct. <<<
In all four cases the proposition that the earth is flat (or round) is simply being held up for consideration, quite independently of whether it is true or not. It takes a completely independent source of information to determine whether the proposition is factual or not. We cannot depend upon outside authorities to determine the grammar of propositions we consider in our conversations because the choice of tenses then becomes a matter for scientists to decide, not for us speakers to decide.
Let me put it another way, if you'll bear with me through a somewhat philosophical discussion (with a fanciful dialog as an example).
I claim that by considering the truth of the proposition that is "being thought", we open up the rules of grammar to the rules of evidence. Here's a little conversation that shows the absurdity of considering the truth of the proposition as a means of determining what is "correct grammar".
Susan: I thought that turquoise is a shade of blue.
Jack: Susan, your sentence is ungrammatical.
Susan: Really? How?
Jack: Well, turquoise is actually a shade of green, so you can't use the present tense there. You have to say, "I thought that turquoise was a shade of blue".
Susan: Well I don't agree with you at all. Turquoise is a shade of blue. It's much more blue than it is green.
Jack: You're wrong. Turquoise is a shade of green, so you can't say, "I thought that turquoise is a shade of blue". That would say that turquoise really is a shade of blue -- which it isn't!
Do you think that Susan and Jack can ever agree on the correct grammar here? No, because they can't agree on what is factual in the real world. You can't determine the grammaticality of a sentence on the basis of what you or anyone personally accepts as truth and falsehood about matters in the real world! It's perfectly grammatical to say, "The atmosphere of the earth is composed of sulfuric acid" or "Water boils at 17 degrees Celsius".
Need another example? What if we have this:
I thought it was/is better to tell a white lie than to hurt someone's feelings by telling them what you really think of them.
Using the method of determining the truth of the proposition before we know whether the real world sanctions is as grammatical, we would need to undertake a lengthy discussion of whether the following proposition is "eternally" or "timelessly" true or not:
It is better to tell a white lie than to hurt someone's feelings by telling them what you really think of them.
I, for one, am not willing to say that such a debate is necessary in order to determine whether is is grammatical in the original sentence. I think I'll just stick with the backshift in all cases!
AnonymousYesterday, my teacher asked me to give an example of current presidents, and I thought Obama is one of the current presidents.The example does not strike me as idiomatic, though -- very strictly speaking -- it is grammatical (in the same way that Colorless green ideas sleep furiously is completely grammatical).
I do not think that 'is' emphasizes anything except that the speaker doesn't speak idiomatic English!
I definitely think 'was' is more idiomatic.
I prefer 'was' -- how could I do otherwise after all I've said above?
Anonymous:Wow, this is really detailed and made me understand everything about the subject. Thank you so much for your time and effort in helping me learn this. I always have great respect for your explanations and your opinions.
Just a few follow-up questions while we are on the subject...
1. Should each of the following be also followed by the past tense as it is with 'I thought...' based on what you've explained?
A. I believed...
B. I guessed...
C. I reckoned...
D. I figured...
E. I supposed...
F. I assumed/presumed...
G. I knew...
H. I understood... / I was under the impression that... / It was my understanding that...
2. Does H above also often mean that my impression or understanding was wrong, therefore 'but I was wrong' need not to be said or written?
3. I believe the present tense 'I think...' followed by the past tense is OK and doesn't make the sentence unidiomatic. Kindly confirm.
I think the earth was flat (and it became round after a billion years). -- just a proposition
I think he was the president of America.
I think we had met before the party last night.
Anonymous1. Should each of the following be also followed by the past tense as it is with 'I thought...' based on what you've explained?Yes. The most idiomatic tense after each of these is the past tense. I would not be surprised, however, to hear occasionally a different tense after the longer idiomatic expressions "I was under the impression that" and "It was my understanding that".
It was my understanding that he was/is going to Europe this coming summer.
(Here the speaker might be using "It was my understanding" in the sense of "I heard", which is a verb which can take "is going" if the event in question -- the trip in this case -- still hasn't happened. I heard that he is going to China. I heard that the public school on Elm Street is closing next year. was is still correct in both of these, by the way.)
Anonymous2. Does H above also often mean that my impression or understanding was wrong, therefore 'but I was wrong' need not to be said or written?No. Your understanding or impression (as in the case of thought) may be right or wrong. Or, you may not know yet whether you are right or wrong because the event you have this impression about has not even occurred yet -- as in the examples I gave above. Regardless, you do not have to add "but I was right" or "but I was wrong" or "but I don't know yet".
Anonymous3. I believe the present tense 'I think...' followed by the past tense is OK and doesn't make the sentence unidiomatic. Kindly confirm.Yes, I can confirm that. You can certainly have an opinion now about something that happened in the past.
Paula thinks the speech was too long.
I think Jerry was rude when he said that to Larry.
I think that that man sitting over there was at Henry's party last night.
Mary thinks that the teacher had good reasons for expelling that student for three days.
Professor Jones thinks that the students understood yesterday's lesson very well.
Likewise with the other verbs you listed.
He didn't eat much. I [guess / suppose / assume] he wasn't hungry.
Anonymous:Thank you, again, for answering all my questions. It was really helpful.
I hope you don't mind if I ask a couple of questions more. I'd just like to make the most of this opportunity to learn. Thank you.
CalifJimI heard that he is going to China. I heard that the public school on Elm Street is closing next year. was is still correct in both of these, by the way.Is there a change in meaning or intent if I use 'was' instead of 'is' or vice versa?
CalifJimSince H doesn't often mean my impression or understanding is wrong, I would say that only context can determine whether it is right or wrong or not yet known. In the following example, context suggests that Mary's understanding was wrong. In addition, 'but I was wrong' need not to be added. Please confirm.Anonymous2. Does H above also often mean that my impression or understanding was wrong, therefore 'but I was wrong' need not to be said or written?No. Your understanding or impression (as in the case of thought) may be right or wrong. Or, you may not know yet whether you are right or wrong because the event you have this impression about has not even occurred yet -- as in the examples I gave above. Regardless, you do not have to add "but I was right" or "but I was wrong" or "but I don't know yet".
John: X is the correct answer.
Mary: It was my understanding that the answer was Y.
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