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Then is commonly used for things happened in both the past and future.

In the common phrase now and then, is then in the past or the future? Could anyone help?

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closed as general reference by Cameron, Will Hunting, MετάEd, FumbleFingers, tchrist Sep 3 '12 at 1:52

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It doesn’t have any temporally anchored reference. If you combine it with a past tense verb, it means “on randomly distributed past occasions”:

John helped out (every) now and then

Combine with a future modal, it means “on randomly distributed future occasions”:

John will help out (every) now and then

It is also acceptable with the present tense, in which case it refers to randomly distributed events before and after now:

John helps out (every) now and then

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Now I see how English natives grasp a meaning of it. Thanks a lot –  suzukimilanpaak Aug 23 '12 at 5:53
    
+1 And now also lacks a true temproal reference. It does not mean "at the time the narrator is speaking" because it can refer to fully completed acts or those totally in the future. "John will be expected to help out now and then. –  bib Aug 23 '12 at 11:51
    
@bib. Indeed: if now had a specific (context-dependent) reference, it would be impossible to quantify over it with every. suzukimilanpaak has drawn attention to fascinating construction. –  Daniel Harbour Aug 23 '12 at 14:18
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Now and then or now and again is a phrase and means from time to time. So it could refer to past, present or future.

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thank you. that was helpful –  suzukimilanpaak Aug 23 '12 at 5:54
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