A question about the use of tense


I have a question about the use of tense. First please read this piece of writing (which I wrote as a comment after watching the film ‘The princess and the frog’):

You may have noticed that I mainly used past tense in the second paragraph (‘died’, ‘was’, ‘did enjoy’), but then I used present tense in the third paragraph (‘is’). I myself cannot explain this (nor am I sure whether it’s correct). I just think I sort of recalling part of the story in the third paragraph, so it’s more appropriate to use past tense, but then the ideas in the third paragraph is also things that already happened in the film, right? but it’d sound a bit odd to say ‘Louis was cute’ or ‘Louis was fat and joyful’, because he’s still cute, and he still fat and joyful. Oh I don’t know…

Could you please shed some light on this?

Thank you very much. :slight_smile:

That’s fine.

The firefly dies (in the past in the film)

You consider the alligator to be cute now. Even though you aren’t watching the film at this moment, that is still your opinion.

Hi BN,

You mean the firefly died? and I know I can use the present tense because that’s my opinion, but what about the alligator being fat and funny? I mean it appeared so in the film, so if we used past tense for the firefly dying, we should also use past tense for the alligator being fat and funny, right?

I mean exactly what I said.

So you mean I should always use present tense when telling about facts that happen in the film? Even in other sentences, for example: coz if he doesn’t die…?

No, that’s not what I mean or said. In fact, I said the opposite.

You used the past tense when talking about the facts of the film, which is fine. (Also when talking about conditionals 'if he didn’t…)
The fact is that during the course of the film the firefly dies. When you are later describing the events of the film, to use the past tense (the firefly died) is natural.

However in the third paragraph you start talking about your opinion rather than the facts. Your opinion is that the alligator is fat and funny – your opinion still stands even though you are no longer watching the film, so it is natural to use present tense.

There’s no such word as ‘coz’, by the way.

Hi Abc,

Have a look at this. It may help you to know that there is special name for this kind of tense:



Thank you very much, BN and Alan. Actually I do know about the use of present tense to refer to past events to create an effect of immediacy (though I didn’t know its name). Let me repeat your ideas to make sure I understand you correctly:

In such cases as this both the past tense and the present tense can be used. If the present tense is used, it helps to create an effect of immediacy. Besides, if I refer to my own opinion (not facts in the film), the present tense should be used.

Now if my understanding is correct, I have only one more question: If I use the present tense for ‘die’, I still need to use the past tense in the conditional sentence (‘because if he didn’t die…’), right?

Excuse me if I get it wrong again and thank you so very much for your patience.

That’s right - but there’s nothing wrong with the paragraph being in the past tense as you first wrote it, and this would be the most natural choice where you are offering a eview of the film as you are here.

The present tense can be used for your opinions, even when talking about something in the past, unless something has changed your mind and you no longer hold those opinions.

OK. I think I got it now. Thank you both very much. :slight_smile: