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Which is better/correct?

"The car we used is a Mercedes." or

"The car we used was a Mercedes."

The second appears to be better coordinated; however, since it is safe to assume the car still is a Mercedes today -- cars don't change their brand, ever -- it feels odd to say that the car was a mercedes.
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I see where you're coming from, but I prefer the second. In fact, it's the first one that sounds odd to me.
Some languages have things like "vowel harmony" or "consonant harmony". I think this is a case of self-assumed "tense harmony" which would have supporters on both sides. I think your assessment ["coordinated" being the key word] would be recognized by many native speakers, including myself.
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ferdisit feels odd to say that the car was a mercedes
Actually, it doesn't feel odd at all. You have to try to overcome your feelings in this case. (Sorry. I don't know of a pill you can take for it.) The second is much better to my ear. Emotion: smile

-- What car did you use on your trip?
-- It was a Mercedes. [Tell yourself: This is not odd. This is not odd.]

-- What film did you see last night?
-- The film we saw was The Godfather. [Keep saying it: This is not odd. This is not odd.]

-- What was making that noise last night?
-- It was a raccoon. I think she has her den in the park nearby. [This is not odd.]

Good luck.
Emotion: smile
CJ
Alright, I'm convinced. Especially "what was it / it is a ..." sounds wrong indeed. Thanks everyone. Emotion: smile
PhilipSome languages have things like "vowel harmony" or "consonant harmony". I think this is a case of self-assumed "tense harmony" which would have supporters on both sides. I think your assessment ["coordinated" being the key word] would be recognized by many native speakers, including myself.

I'm not sure I was clear about what I said here. In the discussion, somehow 'feel' ended up meaning 'sound'. I think that 'coordinated' use of past tenses sounds good, but it might feel odd using a past tense to refer to a situation that still exists. I'm offering this just because I think most of us agree, and my earlier post may have made some feel that I disagree.
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PhilipI'm not sure I was clear about what I said here. In the discussion, somehow 'feel' ended up meaning 'sound'. I think that 'coordinated' use of past tenses sounds good, but it might feel odd using a past tense to refer to a situation that still exists. I'm offering this just because I think most of us agree, and my earlier post may have made some feel that I disagree.

I understand; that's exactly what I meant, actually. I, too, already thought that 'was' sounded (sounds? Same problem?) better when I posted this question. However, it still feels a little as if this implies it no longer does now. I just came across some related sentences -- I think -- concerning reported speech: "She said the moon causes the tides", but "She said she was going abroad tomorrow". Or is that a different issue?
ferdisShe said the moon causes the tides
This is different. It's a scientific truth. That a certain car is a Mercedes is not a scientific truth. That she's going abroad tomorrow is not a scientific truth.
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Also, backshifting is never wrong. This could have been:

She said the moon caused the tides.
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Next, was does not imply is not, though you seem to think it does.

The car we drove was a Ford. (It's still a Ford does not contradict this statement.)

Are you confusing was with used to be?

The hotel we stayed at used to be a hospital. (It's still a hospital does contradict this.)
_______________

Finally, note that to be is semantically diverse, not to say slippery. Arguing as you do, with a very inflexible definition of to be, we would have the following situations.

I was introduced to the new boss today. Her name was Mary. The dress she wore was red.

By your argument, her name is still Mary, so was is disallowed. Presumably the dress is still red, so we have to say not only Her name is Mary, but also Her dress is red. But what if she has altered the dress by dyeing it green? Then we can say, by your argument, Her dress was red, because it is green now. But that depends on our having observational access to the dress at any moment we wish to speak about it! This way of looking at language then requires us, in the general case, to monitor every object we ever speak of throughout its entire existence, leading to awkward situations like this:

I stopped at that intersection because there was a stop sign there. Excuse me. I mean, because there is a stop sign there. Well, I don't know. Let me go back there and see if it's still there. I guess I stopped either because it was there or because it is there. I suppose I don't really know why I stopped at all!

To solve this, we have to accept that there is a meaning of to be that is "eventive", "experiential", or "situational" -- call it whatever you like. It conveys the idea that the situation had certain characteristics at the time it was experienced, no matter what characteristics it still has or does not have now. Using this concept of "experiential" be, we can now do some ridiculous, though illustrative, paraphrases, thus:

The car we used was a Mercedes. ~ We noted (at that time) the name "Mercedes" on the car we used. ~ We 'experienced' the name "Mercedes" concerning the car we used.

... because there was a stop sign ... ~ ... because I 'experienced' a stop sign at that time ...

Her name was Mary. ~ The event of someone saying "Mary" happened at the time they introduced the boss to me.

Her dress was red. ~ I experienced the color of her dress as red at the time I observed it.
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Think of was in this usage as a way of describing a situation as it took place, not as an absolute description of an entity "for all time".

Others may have different explanations, but maybe this one will help a little. Emotion: smile

CJ
Ok, that makes perfect sense. Thanks a lot, CJ.
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