He <is / was> the first person to reach the South Pole

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deepuips

Senior Member
What is the correct tense to be used when talking about first
He was the first person to reach the South Pole.
He is the first person to reach the South Pole.
The first one seems right, but then at present, he remains the first person to reach the South Pole, so isn't the present tense justified?
Thank you.
 
  • deepuips

    Senior Member
    No,I don't,that was an uneducated guess.Please throw some light on this.
    If I use present tense then that precludes any one else having achieved the same feat from being implied.How Do I deal with it at the same time trying to convey about his being still the first one to have done it.
    Thank you.
     

    deepuips

    Senior Member
    Sorry.
    I want to ask you if I say He is the first person to reach the south pole,then does it mean nobody else has reached the south pole? or It means few others have also reached it?
     

    Jenson

    Member
    American English
    I'd say generally present if the action is still occuring; past if the action is complete and not continuous. However, it isn't very strictly defined.

    He was the first person to land on Mercury. (He has already arrived.)

    He is the first person to explore Mercury. (He is still exploring.)

    He was the first king to ... (If he is no longer the king.)

    He is the first king to ... (If he is still the king.)

    He was the first person to ... (If no longer alive.)
     
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    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum, Deepuips. :)

    The correct tense here is simple past: He was the first person to reach the South Pole.

    This is because the event occurred in the past. It's so whether or not others have also reached it since then; he was still the first to do so.
     
    I'm not sure whether Parla has a problem with this ['the correct tense...']; I don't. I have inserted in brackets, times and dates.


    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/01/sean-azzariti-marijuana-colorado_n_4519539.html

    Matt Ferner

    Iraq War Vet Is The First Person To Buy Pot Legally In Colorado

    Posted: 01/01/2014 12:24 pm EST Updated: 01/23/2014 8:17 am EST

    Historic first sales of legal recreational marijuana began across Colorado Wednesday [Jan 1] when Sean Azzariti bought the first bag.
    Azzariti, a Denver-based Iraq war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and could not -- until now
    [12:24 pm, Jan 1] -- get marijuana legally to help alleviate his symptoms, made his purchase at an 8 a.m [Jan 1]. press event.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I'm not sure whether Parla has a problem with this.
    I have no problem with it, Benny; the news report was posted four hours after the purchase of the legal weed. That's close enough, in my opinion, to use the present tense. (The same would be true if that fellow had just reached the South Pole today.)
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I get that it is right in the OP's context to say "He was the first person to reach the South Pole."

    Can you also say this?
    "It was the first time for a person to reach the South Pole."
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks, Parla.

    But you can't say "It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole", can you?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks, Parla.

    But you can't say "It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole", can you?
    Yes, if he went there more than once.
    Thanks, Andygc.

    Do you mean that the sentence ("It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole") is not possible English if he didn't go there after the first time?

    In what respect is it relevant to the validity of that sentence whether "he went there more than once"?
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thanks, Andygc.

    Do you mean that the sentence ("It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole") is not possible English if he didn't go there after the first time?

    In what respect is it relevant to the validity of that sentence whether "he went there more than once"?
    If it was the first time he went to the South Pole, the use of 'first' requires there to be a second. The only way of avoiding that is to use the rather pointless formula "it was the first and only time he went to the South Pole".
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Logically, I get it. But does it really matter in everyday speech?

    For example, say you're visiting Paris for the first time in your life, and you can certainly say, "It's the first time I've ever been here." When you say this, you have no idea whether you will be visiting Paris again later in your life.

    And after you get back from Paris, you could be talking about that trip and say "It was the first time I'd ever been to Paris" without knowing whether you will be visiting Paris again. No??
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    There is a reason that I asked the question in post #12 regarding the validity of this sentence: "It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole."

    According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:
    HELP
    To talk about the first or the last time you do something, use the first/last time (that) I…: This is the first time (that) I've been to London.
    This is the first time for me to go to London.:cross:
    That was the last time (that) I saw her.


    I was wondering why this is not allowed when it is okay to say
    "He was the first person to reach the South Pole."

    I know there is a clear difference in meaning but both of them have the same syntax of having "first" followed by a to-infinitive, don't they?



     
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    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    "This is the first time that I've been to London," in the present tense, is what someone would say while he or she is still in London. As soon as that person leaves London, the tense must shift to the past.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Sorry, the dictionary marks the second sentence as wrong. Somehow the marking was not correctly copied here. So I've inserted :cross: myself.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    JungKim, Yichen, this thread is wandering around and off into looking at sentences which aren't normal English. This started with JungKim's post
    "He was the first person to reach the South Pole."

    Can you also say this?
    "It was the first time for a person to reach the South Pole."
    That's acceptable, but perhaps a more common English sentence would be "It was the first time that a person reached the South Pole." The next sentence you asked about - "It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole" - is barely acceptable, and would be better as "It was the first time that he reached the South Pole." However, the use of "first" in this context automatically indicates that he went there at least a second time.

    A change of context changes this automatic assumption
    For example, say you're visiting Paris for the first time in your life, and you can certainly say, "It's the first time I've ever been here." When you say this, you have no idea whether you will be visiting Paris again later in your life.

    And after you get back from Paris, you could be talking about that trip and say "It was the first time I'd ever been to Paris" without knowing whether you will be visiting Paris again. No??
    Those work. The first is the present, so there is the possibility of future trips. The second only works when describing the immediate past - you have just got back from the trip. Again, there is the possibility of future trips. However, as soon as you talk about the remote past you can't use "first" unless you have been again - "I went to Paris a year ago. It was the only time I'd ever been there."

    The other sentence
    This is the first time for me to go to London.
    is just wrong. As I said above "It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole" is barely acceptable and I doubt many native speakers would use it. This present tense version "This is the first time for me to go to London." is not used.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks, Andygc, for sorting things out.

    In a nutshell, you say:
    (1) It was the first time for a person to reach the South Pole.:tick: (but less common than a finite clause)
    (2) It was the first time for him to reach the South Pole.:thumbsdown: ("barely acceptable" but not idiomatic)
    (3) This is the first time for me to go to London.:cross:("just wrong")

    First, what makes (3) "just wrong" when (2) is "barely acceptable"? Is it the difference in tense ("was"/"is") or in pronoun ("it"/"this")?

    Second, in (1) and (2), what's the function of the to-infinitive clause? Is it an extraposed subject?
     
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