The two women <have> played a key role

lewoz

Senior Member
French - Creole
Hello,
I have come across a sentence in an English book that puzzles me.
"The two women have played a key role in the US space adventure."
Knowing that the women in question died in the early 21st century, I would tend to use the PRETERIT TENSE, because the life experience assessed here is over for good.
But I may be wrong about the period of time being dealt with. Maybe the period assessed is not their lifetime (finished), but the space adventure (unfinished), that is still going on today, and also still benefiting from the results of the ladies' scientific research today.
Would you please help me get the grasp of it?
Have a nice day. :)
 
  • lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    Thanks for your answers.
    The women were dead for more than ten years when the sentence was written. That's what keeps puzzling me.
    Even if the period of time involved here were not their lifetime (over) but the space race (unfinished), that would keep puzzling me though, since the verb of action (to play a key role) refers to what the women did (they are the active subjects here), and not to the period of time mentioned (as in "The Space Race has generated many jobs over the years"). So, to me, a dead subject's actions can't be described with no other tense but THE PRETERIT.
    What do you think about it?
    Thanks a lot. I hope that I managed to make my thoughts clear, because that grammar point is a tricky one.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    So, to me, a dead subject's actions can't be described with no other tense but THE PRETERIT.
    You have one too many negatives here ("can't", "no other" and "but"), but in any case, there isn't any absolute ban on using the present tense or present perfect for describing a dead person's actions, and you only have to think of the present tense used in storytelling. The question is whether it is appropriate in your example.

    What is the book? How were the women introduced? Does the book refer to them using the present tense at all?
     

    lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    Thanks for correction my mistakes. I guess I should have written "To me, a dead subject's actions can be described with no other tense but the PRETERIT." I hope I have made it right now.
    The extract is from a school English book we have. It is taken from a paragraph about an American student, "Hannah has written two columns in the blog about two black women who have played a key role in the US space adventure."
    And I know the women in question have been dead for a few years now, being the ones whose lives are told in the movie HIDDEN FIGURES.
    So I thought they should have phrased the second part with the PRETERIT, "two women who played a key role..."
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Why the present prefect "Hannah has written"? There needs to be a focus on the present somewhere, and knowing what this is may help explain why the present perfect is used for "who have played". On the face of it, it seems odd to use the present perfect for "who have played" even if the women were alive. Is the writer merely copying Hannah's choice of tense?

    Who were the women? Does the book say? I see that Hidden Figures is about three women, who died in 2005, 2008 and 2020. When did Hannah supposedly write her blog? If the women were dead at that time, did Hannah know this? There is never any requirement to use the present perfect for something that is wholly in the past, and choosing to use it generally depends on the speaker/writer's perception of the link between what they are describing and the present. This isn't an exact science.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have come across a sentence in an English book that puzzles me.
    "The two women have played a key role in the US space adventure."
    Knowing that the women in question died in the early 21st century, I would tend to use the PRETERIT TENSE, because the life experience assessed here is over for good.
    But I may be wrong about the period of time being dealt with. Maybe the period assessed is not their lifetime (finished), but the space adventure (unfinished), that is still going on today, and also still benefiting from the results of the ladies' scientific research today.
    Would you please help me get the grasp of it?
    It’s possible that the sentence was just badly edited, since the present perfect would be fine if you were referring to what those women did (the impact of which may still be relevant today?), rather than to the women themselves (who are no more).

    So, in short:
    "The two women have played a key role in the US space adventure." :thumbsdown:
    "What these two women achieved has played a key role in the US space adventure." :thumbsup:
     

    lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    Thanks a lot for your precious comments.
    Hannah is just a fiction character made up by the writers of the book. An introduction of her is written on the front page, with information about who she is, what she likes and so on... I am going to try to send a picture of the paragraph.
     

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    lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    It’s possible that the sentence was just badly edited, since the present perfect would be fine if you were referring to what those women did (the impact of which may still be relevant today?), rather than to the women themselves (who are no more).

    So, in short:
    "The two women have played a key role in the US space adventure." :thumbsdown:
    "What these two women achieved has played a key role in the US space adventure." :thumbsup:
    That's how I feel about it too. The change of subject makes a difference. Now the action can repeat itself, as the period of reference is still open. I get it about the use of the present perfect in the sentence about her writing two columns, but I really don't regarding the one about the ladies playing a key role in the space adventure, all the more since at least one was them was dead -if not both of them- when the school book was published in 2017.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The only surprising thing, for me, is that you find a minor grammatical blip in a book worthy of investigation. :D
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The two women are Katherine Johnson, who died in 2020, and Mae Jemison, who is still alive. If you turned to page 88 and read it, you would have seen who the women were, and could easily have looked this up yourself.

    The publication is available online here: Bloggers 3e - Livre de l'élève
     

    lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    Thanks, but as I said, even with one of them being still alive at the moment of publication, and the other one being deceased, I wonder which tense fits better in this context.
     

    lewoz

    Senior Member
    French - Creole
    True. I wasn't thinking straight. I am here sick at home, and shouldn't have tried to work with headache and coughing. Sorry for the disturbance, and thanks for helping me put my head straight back on my shoulders.
    If I may, one of them being gone now, would you switch for the PRETERIT if the book had to be reprinted in 2023?
    Have a nice evening.
     
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