Does the phrase “dawned on me” actually have a tense or is it just an expression?
“I know why you have been unable to do it. The reason is that it is physically impossible for you. It dawned on me just now.”
See, if it does have a tense, I don’t think this sentence makes sense, since “it dawned on me” at one point but I’m explaining reasons for being incapable in present tense. I think this sentence sounds like it dawned on me while I was explaining my reasoning, which couldn’t have happened, right?
“It dawned on me that the reason you have been unable to do it is that it is physically impossible for you.”
Like the first example, this doesn’t make sense if “dawned on me” has a tense, right? Should I correct this to “It dawned on me that the reason you had been unable to do it was that it was physically impossible for you.”
Is this correct at all? I don’t even know where I should begin to fix it:
“It dawned on me that the fact that he lives there didn’t bother me at all.”
Of course dawned on me has a tense – it’s just that in practice it’s usually past, for the same reason we tend to speak of realising things in the past (you can’t know something until you know it). But it can be…
It dawns on me that…
(or more rarely)
it is dawning on me that…
It will dawn on you that…
It would dawn on me that…
It seems to me OP’s confusion stems from the fact that s/he expects some grammatical connection between when you realise something and the timeframe(s) of the thing(s) involved in the realisation. There is no such connection, obviously. It might dawn on you tomorrow that the universe began 15B years ago, or it might have dawned on you yesterday that it will end 15B years from now.
In the case of OP’s final example…
It dawned on me that the fact that he lives there didn’t bother me at all.”
…there’s some semantic justification for saying dawned and didn’t would normally be the same tense, simply because the realisation and the lack of concern would often be concurrent. But it might be what’s dawned on you is you will not be bothered at some time in the future (even though you might have been bothered when you realised this, and you might still be bothered when making the observation later).
Other possible temporal relationships between the three highlighted verbs are also perfectly credible. What dawns on you may be that you are not bothered now (or will not be bothered in the future, or would not be bothered in a hypothetical scenario) about the fact that he will/might live there.
Source : Link , Question Author : jess , Answer Author : FumbleFingers