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What are the differences between “was/were dead” and “is/are dead”?

For example,

Osama is/was dead years ago.

Are they interchangeable?

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closed as general reference by Matt E. Эллен, Urbycoz, J.R., TimLymington, tchrist Aug 28 '12 at 11:39

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Hello. Is this particular to dead? Do you know which of these is right: He is bald/blue/happy/married years ago or he was bald/blue/happy/married years ago? Do you know what tense is is? Do you think it ever makes logical sense to say that something is years ago? – Rachel Aug 28 '12 at 5:59
This question is very basic. Please consider supporting our proposal for English language learners – Matt E. Эллен Aug 28 '12 at 9:30
Because @RoaringFish wants me to teach rather than downvote, I'll teach. Please don't ask the question, "Are they interchangable?" "Are they interchangeable?" is virtually unanswerable, because rarely is language interchangeable in all contexts. (For example, stop and halt may be synonyms, but I'd never say, "We need a new halt sign at that intersection"). It would be better to ask something more like, "Is there any context where these could be interchangeable?" or, "Could these be regarded as synonyms in certain instances?" – J.R. Aug 28 '12 at 10:12
is = present / future; was = past. – Kevdog777 Aug 28 '12 at 14:07

Actually the construction "was/is dead years ago" doesn't make sense. The correct way of saying that is:

Osama's dead, he died many years ago.

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+1, but this answer would be even better if the comma were replaced by a semicolon. The two halves of the sentence are grammatically independent. – user16269 Aug 28 '12 at 7:56

Edit - "Osama was dead years ago" is fine. "Osama is dead years ago" is NOT fine, as it uses the present tense in a past context.

However, the normal way of saying this is

Osama has been dead for many years.

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Years ago ties the event to a certain time in the past. When that is the case, the past tense is required and the normal way of expressing the thought would be Osama died years ago. Was dead doesn’t work because it describes a state rather than event, but you could say something like Osama was dead long before I was born.

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