Past versus Present Tense

We interrupt this blog to bring you this special public service announcement about verb tense in writing. . . .

Past and Present tense in fiction and literature.  This concept is often very difficult for students to grasp, and I created the following hand-out and table to help explain it a bit..

All fiction is present tense, whether written or performed.  The only exception is live performance, in which case you would refer to the actor’s performance in the past tense, but not the fiction.

It can be confusing, especially when talking about novels and short stories, since those are usually *written* in *past* tense, but we’re supposed to write *about* them in present tense.

The reason is that when we read something, we re-experience it.  Certainly, with a television show or movie, when we watch it, we re-experience it. It happens again.  So in that case, we might refer to the process of making the show or movie in the past tense, but the action that takes place in it, or the actor’s performances, are present.

Novel or short story or poetry

What the writer “says” is present tense

Fictional events are present tense

Nonfiction

What the writer “says” is present tense

Historical events are past tense

Fictional TV show or movie

Actor’s performance is present tense

Fictional events are present tense

A Live Play or Performance.

Actor’s performance is past tense

Fictional events are present tense

Broadcast News Report

What the News “reports” is present tense

Actual events are past tense

Sports Broadcast

Broadcast is past tense (rarely rebroadcast)

Sports event is past tense

<div class=Section1>
<p class=MsoNormal><span class=GramE><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:
Arial’>Past and Present tense in fiction and literature.</span></span><span
style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’><o:p></o:p></span></p>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></span></p>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>All fiction
is present tense, whether written or performed.&nbsp; The only exception is
live performance, in which case you would refer to the actor’s performance in
the past tense, but not the fiction.<br>
<br>
It can be confusing, especially when talking about novels and short stories,
since those are usually *written* in *past* tense, but we’re supposed to write
*about* them in present tense.<br>
<br>
The reason is that when we read something, we re-experience it.&nbsp; Certainly,
with a television show or movie, when we watch it, we re-experience it.&nbsp;
It happens again.&nbsp; So in that case, we might refer to the process of
making the show or movie in the past tense, but the action that takes place in
it, or the actor’s performances, are present.<o:p></o:p></span></p>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’><o:p>&nbsp;</o:p></span></p>
<table class=MsoNormalTable border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=0 width=895
style=‘width:671.25pt;margin-left:4.65pt;border-collapse:collapse;mso-padding-alt:
0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt’>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:0;mso-yfti-firstrow:yes;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Novel or
short story or poetry<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>What the
writer &quot;says&quot; is present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Fictional
events are present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:1;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Nonfiction<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>What the
writer &quot;says&quot; is present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Historical
events are past tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:2;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Fictional
TV show or movie<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Actor’s
performance is present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Fictional
events are present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:3;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’ x:str=“A Live Play or Performance. “>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>A Live
Play or Performance. <o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Actor’s
performance is past tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Fictional
events are present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:4;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Broadcast
News Report<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>What the
News &quot;reports&quot; is present tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Actual
events are past tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
<tr style=‘mso-yfti-irow:5;mso-yfti-lastrow:yes;height:14.25pt’>
<td width=229 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:171.75pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Sports
Broadcast<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=312 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:3.25in;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Broadcast
is past tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
<td width=354 nowrap valign=bottom style=‘width:265.5pt;padding:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
height:14.25pt’>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘font-size:11.5pt;font-family:Arial’>Sports
event is past tense<o:p></o:p></span></p>
</td>
</tr>
</table>
<p class=MsoNormal><span style=‘mso-spacerun:yes’>&nbsp;</span></p>
</div>

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