Very Good Past-Present-Future Tense SC Question

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    Interest rates on mortgages have declined steadily during the first six months of this year but virtually remained unchanged during the next three months.

  • (A) have declined steadily during the first six months of this year but virtually remained unchanged
  • (B) declined steadily during the first six months of this year but virtually remain unchanged
  • (C) steadily declined during the first six months of this year but remain virtually unchanged
  • (D) declined steadily during the first six months of this but have remained virtually unchanging’
  • (E) declined steadily during the first six months of this year but have remained virtually unchanged

OA is E. Very interesting question. Here’s how I’m thinking through it:

Step 1) I read “Interest rates on mortgages have declined steadily during the first six months of this year”

So far looks ok. I take a quick look at the answer choices and see that they are testing me on “have declined” Vs “declined steadily” VS “steadily declined”

Well, (A) shows “have declined during the first six months”–this implies that this declining started in the beginning of the year (in the past) and continues to the present–which presumably would be now in month #6.

So looks ok so far.

Step 2) Then we keep reading: “but virtually remained unchanged during the next three months.”

“During the next three months” ???—wait a minute. It’s using a past tense “remained unchanged” when referencing something that happens for the next three months. Since we assumed the present was now in month #6, then the next three months would be month #7-9.

But they used past tense “remained unchanged” when referencing something that was really in the future (relative to month #6).

Something must be wrong!

If they’re going to word it like this–you’re going to need to get rid of the “have” in “have declined”–because this is conflicting with other clues in the sentence.

Step 3) “declined steadily” VS “steadily declined”
Well, one’s not that much better than the other..so let’s keep looking for other clues. We know we are now operating in the past tense since all remaining answer choices are in the past tense.

Step 4) “remain virtually unchanged” Vs “have remained virtually unchanged” when referencing the “next 3 months”

Since we know we are in the past tense–we cannot use “remain virtually unchanged”–this is actually present tense. The “-ed” in the word “unchanged” might lead some to believe that it’s past tense–but actually “unchanged” is used as an adjective—not a verb.

So we need to eliminate “remain virtually unchanged” as well as “virtually remain unchanged” in (B) and (C).

Step 5) Now it’s between (D) and (E).

“remained virtually unchanging” or “remained virtually unchanged”

This is an easy one. Clearly (D) doesn’t make sense–only (E) makes sense.

So choose (E) as your final answer and move on!

Hope that helps!

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