1. The WordReference Forums have moved to new forum software. (Details)

Use of present tense to describe past

Discussion in 'English Only' started by musicgold, Dec 5, 2010.

  1. musicgold Senior Member

    Tutsi
    Hi,

    I realize that the present tense is most commonly used tense in conversations, but sometimes I find it really odd. For example, consider the following sentence. Though the process has occured a long time back the speaker states it as if it is a process that keeps occuring.
    #2 is my sentence, also in the present tense. I get confused as to how the speaker can justify the present tense in #1.

    1. Darwin's theory of evoluation states that we are descended from the ape family.

    2. XYZ thinks that we are controlled by aliens.

    Thanks.
     
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    Darwin's theory stated it when he wrote it and it still states it today. It's like saying, "This piece of paper says" -- it doesn't matter how long ago it was written.
     
  3. musicgold Senior Member

    Tutsi
    Copyright,

    Thanks. I am trying to understand the thinking process of native speakers. It is not clear to me how native speakers decide when to use simple present versus present perfect /past.

    As a non-native speaker, I think like this: the process of evolution from apes to humans is complete. It is no longer going on, and therefore it should be described using the past tense. As a result the following two seem more appropriate to me.

    2. Darwin's theory of evoluation states that we descended from the ape family.

    3. Darwin's theory of evoluation states that we have descended from the ape family.

    I remember another example. Here the action of leasing (signing the contract) was done sometime in the past, but still the author has used 'is leased'

    4. The property is leased to a big corporation.




    Thanks.
     
  4. Uriel- Senior Member

    New Mexico, US
    American English
    Ah, that's because we are using the past participle not as a verb, but as an adjective. It functions both ways. In "I have descended from a tree", descended is the second part of the verb phrase "have descended (I was up a tree earlier, but now I'm down). But in "I'm descended from French smugglers", descended is now a descriptor, just like "I'm tired" or "She's spoiled" -- tire and spoil are also verbs, but here they describe the subject's state.
     
  5. Uriel- Senior Member

    New Mexico, US
    American English
    I guess an easy way to tell which is which is to see what other verb the participle is paired with -- if it's a form of "to be", you're looking at a descriptor, while if it's a form of "to have", it's a past action.
     
  6. musicgold Senior Member

    Tutsi
    Uriel-,

    Thanks. That is an interesting observation. One more twist in English learning.:)
     
  7. Uriel- Senior Member

    New Mexico, US
    American English
    I should probably add the disclaimer that that may not be true in every case, but it might at least be some help.
     

Share This Page