historical present

English edit

  • On 1 September 1939, the Nazis invade Poland, and two days later Britain and France declare war on Germany.
  • Yesterday this bloke stops me in the street and offers me a Rolex watch for ten quid.
  • Mr and Mrs Treacle live in a little gingerbread cottage. Mrs Treacle works in a pudding factory, while Mr Treacle is a gooseberry polisher.
  • "And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name [...]"

Noun edit

historical present (uncountable)

  1. (grammar) The present tense as used when referring to real past events, to add immediacy to what is being said or written.
  2. (grammar) The present tense as used when writing a fictional narrative.
    • 1972, William Labov, Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English, page 47:
      In most dialects, the historical present is used quite freely to convey the sense of more vivid narrative, to retell dreams, plots, tell jokes, etc.
    • 2001, Daniel E. Collins, Reanimated Voices: Speech reporting in a historical-pragmatic perspective, page 91:
      Cross-linguistically, the historical present tends to be used to increase vividness by substituting the perspective of the ongoing speech situation for that of the narrative.
    • 2016, Leo Katcher, The Big Bankroll: The Life And Times Of Arnold Rothstein:
      Mr. Rothstein comes in," Scher said, "it must have been about none o'clock. Every night he comes in here [Scher, like so many Broadway habitués, spoke most often in the historical present, rather than the past, tense. Damon Runyon faithfully reproduced this patois.] Regular as clockwork he comes in here.

Usage notes edit

A distinction may be made between the historical present used in narratives and the literary present used when writing about narratives, e.g. explaining plotlines. However, this distinction is not universally observed.

Synonyms edit

Translations edit

See also edit

Further reading edit