1. yokone

    yokone Member

    Dec 16, 2010
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    Do you think or did you think?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by yokone, Jan 29, 2012.

    Hi everybody,

    I was watching a tv show and there was a dialogue in the subtitle as follows;

    What did happen last night?

    What did you think happened last night?

    In this dialogue, is it correct to use past tense "what did you think happened last night?" or the subtitle is wrong and we have use simple present "what do you

    think happened last night?"

    Thanks in advance
  2. Cacian

    Cacian Banned

    Oct 25, 2011
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    'what did you think happened last night' for me means this
    what did you think yesterday/last night about what happened last night?

    what do you think happened last night? means this
    what do you think right now about what happened last night.
  3. cruciFICTION

    cruciFICTION Contributor Contributor

    May 18, 2011
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    Brisbane, Australia
    I'd say it'd be a case of bad use of emphasis, and probably bad dialogue. "What do you think happened last night?" is more common, more acceptable, and makes a hell of a lot more sense. Whoever is responsible for the subtitles (and the verbal dialogue if it was the same) probably just thought they should repeat the "did" because they probably didn't understand the subtleties of tense properly.

    The word 'about' was never brought into it; that changes the meaning entirely.
    Also, if the character is asking what happened, then they're unlikely to have had any thoughts on it when it happened, so your first example is redundant.
  4. art

    art Contributor Contributor

    Sep 5, 2010
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    Cacian, as per, has it pretty much right.

    Both are grammatically fine.

    The writer and the transcriber likely got it exactly right.

    While person B is almost certainly more interested in what person thinks now, rather than what they thought at some (unspecified) point in the recent past, they are simply echoing the construction – what did – employed by person A.

    This echoing will likely say something about the nature of the conversation. It might be taken to be something of a challenge. So:

    A: What did happen last night?
    B: What did you think happened last night?
    A: Well, I saw you acting like a drunken prick and punching a stranger in the face without provocation.
    B: Really? What you actually saw was me drinking to blot out my psychic agony and punching my wife’s killer in the face. But, you know, thanks for your support.
  5. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    yes, cacian is 100% right on this...

    it's not bad use of emphasis or dialog if that's what was meant... one would have to have seen the show to judge its correctness...
  6. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Agree with Maia, art, anc Cacian on this.

    There is a subtle distinction. An investigator could be asking a witness about a crime, that the witness now knows took place. But the investigator may want to know what the witness believed he or she was seeing or hearing at the time, because those perceptions may color the witness' recollections. If the witness thought she was hearing a car backfire, she may not have been looking for someone hurrying away on foot, and so her recollection that the stree was empty would carry less weight than if she thought she had heard a gunshot.

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