Cilla
Question about tenses past / present (easy) Hello. I was reading a book this afternoon and I read this : "1888 : Jack the Ripper strikes in London - he is never caught". I would have instinctively said "he has never been caught". Is this correct or "he is never caught" is the only acceptable tense in this situation? Also, I was surprised because in this book called "Horrible histories, Vile Victorians", the authors have decided to make a list of events, chronogically ordered and they use the present tense to deal with them. At the university, I was told we should use the "past tense" when we talked about History and / or events that were over (with a date). In French, we have a tense called "présent historique" that allows us to use present tense to talk about past events. I wondered if it was the same here. Thank you for your answers.
Jun 17, 2019 6:17 PM
Answers · 6
Similar to French, English has the historical present (also called the narrative present). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_present
June 17, 2019
Hi Cilla, From the context you provide, it sounds like the idea is that the narration’s POV is from some point shortly after the crimes, reporting the (lack of) resolution. This is a common choice when referring to crimes or odd stories, because it communicates a sense of uncertainty/gives an unsettling feeling. Edit: If I were referring to Jack the Ripper as a historical figure in Victorian Britain from our vantage point in the 21st century, I would use the passive: “This notorious murderer was never caught.” A completed, historical fact.
June 17, 2019
Thank you @Ashton, I also thought it looked like our "présent historique". We use it a lot in French but as you said, I have rarely seen in it in books. Thank you for your answer, I will have a look at the website you recommended me !
June 17, 2019
Hi Cilla! These are some good questions that I even struggle to answer as a native speaker. For ''1888: Jack the Ripper strikes in London - he is never caught,'' I think this may be similar to your second question where you mention the use of présent historique. In this case, "he is never caught" would be correct since he never was caught. Saying "he had never been caught" would imply that he would be caught at some point, which is not historically true (I had to look this up, I didn't know these details, hahaha). Also, I just looked into it and English also has a ''historical present'' verb tense! It just isn't used very often, mainly in books/sometimes when talking about history/sometimes when telling bad jokes. This website might be helpful https://www.thoughtco.com/historical-present-verb-tense-1690928. I hope this helps!!
June 17, 2019
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