Tenses used in an news-article

KonradBade

Senior Member
German
Hey, I read an article about the New Zealand earthquake. I have some questions about some tenses... may you can explain it to me?

The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, has declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre. "Make no mistake this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city," he said.
Firstly, "has declared" is in the present perfect... what about ordered? Is it the simple past or did they just cross the has and it's the present perfect, too? Why did they use the present perfect here? Is it because the state of emergency is still declared NOW/ peope are still there NOW?

At least 65 people have died and more than 100 are missing after a powerful earthquake struck the southern New Zealand city of ...
What does the present perfect implies here? That it's may not the definite number? may more people died...?

The spire of the city's well-known stone cathedral toppled into a central square, while buildings collapsed in on themselves and streets were strewn with bricks and shattered concrete.


The multi-storey Pyne Gould Guinness Building, housing more than 200 workers, has collapsed with an unknown number of people trapped inside. Television pictures showed rescuers, many of them office workers, dragging severely injured people from the rubble.

They start out with the simple past here (toppled, collapsed) and then they switch to the present perfect (has collapsed) and back to the simple past again (showed). Why did they do that? Why didn't they just use the simple past for every sentence? What's the meaning?


Thank you for helping me! :)
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Why didn't they just use the simple past for every sentence?
    One reason is that it gets boringly repetitive and readers don't like that :(

    The "have died" wording is what is used, as you surmised, when the actual final count is not yet known. I think this article was billed as "breaking news" when it was written and often such works have more of the "present" nature to them as a result. If you were writing about the event many years later, you would not use it.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, Konrad. Here's your first question: Firstly, "has declared" is in the present perfect... what about ordered? Is it the simple past or did they just cross the has and it's the present perfect, too? Why did they use the present perfect here? Is it because the state of emergency is still declared NOW/ peope are still there NOW?

    I'd say that the reporter used the present perfect to indicate a declaration that was made in the past and continues to affect the present. Using "ordered" after "has declared" is not switching tenses. You can use one auxiliary with many participles: I have declared an emergency, ordered the police to help evacuate the city, called in the fire department, etc.

    This is just a shorter way to say: I have declared an emergency, have ordered the police..., have called in the fire department...

    Using the present perfect in "have died" is just a way to indicate that they died, that the moments of their deaths aren't specified in the sentence, and that their deaths still affect readers and family members. The reporter could have used the simple past, but it wouldn't have implied all those things.

    The simple past was a good choice for describing the toppling of the cathedral, the collapsing of the buildings, and the showing of the rescuers.

    The writer used "has collapsed" to describe the Pyne Gould Guinness Building . The present perfect is used to let readers know that the event extends into the present. The collapse happened, but people are still trapped inside. The collapse affects the present.
     

    KonradBade

    Senior Member
    German
    So, all in all, except for the sentences the present perfect is needed to sumit a special meaning, like in the sentence about the number of dead people, it's just a "stylistic device" to make it more vivid and not so boring and to let it sound more immediate?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Using the present perfect does involve the reader in a way that using the simple past doesn't. It lets the reader know that the event still affects the present. The story isn't finished. It's still happening.
     

    KonradBade

    Senior Member
    German
    Okay, would you say that the writer chose the sentences he used the present perfect instead of the simple past randomly?
    I mean if you write everything in the present perfect... the effect would be lost, wouldn't it?

    By the way,... I think I slowly get the hang of use of the present perfect and I guess, I just start to like it! :)
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't think the choices were random, Konrad. I've given you my thoughts on why the writer chose the present perfect in post #3.

    I'm glad you're getting used to the present perfect and how it's used in English. Of course, its use is very different from the present perfect in German. It's a real puzzler for many whose first language isn't English. :)
     

    KonradBade

    Senior Member
    German
    Ah, okay... Then I got you wrong! You mean he did it intentionally in that specific sentences "to imply" how/that a completed action in the past still affects the present (/people) in the moment of writing, right? BUT he could have used the simple past in that specific sentences, but using the simple past wound't have had that involving, present and vivid effect to the reader. Am I right now?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    That sounds right to me, Konrad: The building has collapsed... Here the collapsed building affects the present.

    The building collapsed. Here we have a report that's isolated in the past. There is no implied relation to the present.
     

    Havfruen

    Senior Member
    USA
    English - American
    The simple past was a good choice for describing the toppling of the cathedral, the collapsing of the buildings, and the showing of the rescuers.
    These actions were finished, so simple past is used.

    Everything else was ongoing in some way, so the present perfect was used in all the other verbs (or implied have ordered the police..., have called in the fire department...)


     
    Quote:
    The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, has declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate the city centre. "Make no mistake this is going to be a very black day for this shaken city," he said.
    You are right to assume that they omitted has before ordered and that this is also present perfect.

    You might also question the lack of punctuation after 'Make no mistake', but writing under emotional strain and the pressure of a strict deadline, the reporter's concern is to get the facts out as fully and quickly as possible.

    He or she was not too concerned with grammatical niceties when working in this situation, and would have taken more trouble over accuracy given the time, and the knowledge that his/her text was going to be subjected to such detailed analytical scrutiny.


    Rover
     
    Last edited:

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    This probably will confuse you even more ...

    Grammatically the previous posts are correct, but material you specify violates practice of U.S. newspapers by using the present perfect instead of nailing down the time element with the simple past. (You don't say where you saw the article, which really should be part of context since practices vary throughout the vast English-speaking world.)

    I emphasize that I can speak only for the U.S., but the rule here is to always specify the day (and time, if relevant) when something occurs.

    Occasionally, news reports will "bury" the time element if an event actually happened some time ago and the reporter/editor wants to de-emphasize the fact that the event went unnoticed. This often happens with the death of (former) celebrities where the report might use the present perfect and somewhere down in the story, the reader finds out that the death occurred a week or so ago.

    This is just a device and an exception and doesn't apply to your sample since the NZ earthquake and the report happened more or less on the same day.

    Otherwise, the use of the present perfect is just lazy writing and execrable editing on the part of the news provider - again, by U.S. standards.

    See this CNN report for an example of better writing.

    "(CNN) -- A woman was pulled from earthquake ruins in one of New Zealand's largest cities Wednesday, bringing a rare ray of hope as rescuers frantically searched for survivors."
    Nothing in the above implies that the the present perfect should never be used - only that the simple past should be used where it fits. For example, one might say something like "airport security has been extremely tight for years."

    Thus, your question is a very good one, although like many "mature," adults :(, I resent being addressed by "hey."
     
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