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hi,

is it possible to use the past tense in a conversation to explain about someone although he is still alive until now?

for example, 'i had a friend before. we were working for the same company. his father was indian and his mother was chinese (both his parents are still alive).

if yes, won't it make the listener confused.

thanks.
Comments  
The past tense is fine, and it won't confuse people. You can say this:

A friend of mine used to work at the same company where I worked. His father was Indian and his mother was Chinese.
When you say
His mother was Chinese
you are not saying
His mother was Chinese and she is dead.

The two are not the same at all! Emotion: smile
CJ
hi: i'm not the person posting the question. I don't understand why the past tense here won't cause confusion; if the parents are still alive, why don't we use present tense instead? if both tenses are correct, which usage is more popular? If the parents were dead, how the sentence would be changed? i'm sorry to have lots of "whys", but i'm always confused by english tense questions, especially tense shift; I just don't understand why tense shift if we could express the same idea without shifting the tense.
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The use of the past tense in that situation is to communicate the idea that the information about the ethnicity of the parents was conveyed to the speaker at the time he was still working at that company. The present could also have been used, but a native speaker, on hearing the past tense, would not mistakenly think that the parents were dead. He would only conclude that the information about the father being Indian and about the mother being Chinese was passed along to the speaker at some time in the past. Most likely, the speaker has no information whatsoever about whether the parents are still alive or already dead, and there is no reason to think that he has this information and is trying to convey it through his choice of tense.
In general, the use of the past tense does not imply the death of the subject!

CJ
guzhao67If the parents were dead, how would the sentence would be changed?
Supposing they were alive when the speaker was working at that company with his friend:
His father was Indian, and his mother was Chinese. They have both died since then.
Supposing they were already dead when the two of them worked together at that company:
His father was Indian, and his mother was Chinese. They had died some years before.
CJ
guzhao67I just don't understand why tense shift if we could express the same idea without shifting the tense.
You may be arguing against yourself here!
Look carefully at what was written.
I had a friend. We were working at .... His father was .... His mother was ....
These are all past tense. You are the one who wants to shift the tense to present (for the second two verbs)! The native speaker of English agreeswith your idea exactly: Why shift the tense if you can express your idea without shifting the tense? Emotion: smile
CJ
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guzhao67i'm I'm sorry to have lots of "whys", but i'm always confused by english English tense questions
Don't be sorry. You can't learn anything unless you ask questions. English tenses are confusing. You're not the only one experiencing this sort of confusion. Emotion: smile
CJ
Hi there: you are great! CalifJim. I've known this forum for only a few days, but I've learnt a lot. Thank you.Emotion: big smile
You're welcome! Emotion: wink
CJ
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