They are dead /They were dead.

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ray8838

Senior Member
Chinese
1. They are dead.
2. They were dead.

I am confused about when to use simple present tense and when to use simple past tense.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    If you are talking about the present, you should use "are": They are dead. = They are dead now.

    If you are talking about the past, you should use "were": They were dead. = They were dead at some time in the past.

    If you are talking about the present and you mention somebody who died in the past, you should use "are": Tom and Ralph died five years ago. They are dead now.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, that's not true, ray. Imagine you're telling a story:

    I heard two shots and ran into the room. John and Samantha were lying on the floor, motionless. They were dead!

    You couldn't use the present tense there.
     

    ray8838

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thanks for your reply.

    If "they were dead" is true, "they are dead" is true too.
    If "they are dead" is true, "they were dead" is true too.

    Am I right?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, you're right in terms of logic:). But that doesn't mean that "They are dead" and "They were dead" are interchangeable. Owlman's post 2 gives a good explanation of the difference.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Loob's story is a narrative about the past, ray. If you are writing about the past, you should use "were". It doesn't matter that the person is still dead in the present: When I walked into the room, I saw her lying on the couch. She was dead. = She was dead when I saw her on the couch.

    It doesn't matter that she is still dead now. I am talking about her condition at some time in the past.

    cross-posted with Loob. :)
     
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