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Here's a news heading from CNN:

U.S. stocks were modestly higher at the opening bell Wednesday as political wrangling over the fiscal cliff continues to dominate the market.

The author used "were modestly higher"; why the simple past? Is it wrong to say "are modestly higher"? It is a state of being that is still true, so I suppose using simple present is okay.

And what about using "continued" instead of "continues"?

U.S. stocks are modestly higher at the opening bell Wednesday as political wrangling over the fiscal cliff continued to dominate the market.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

were vs are:

It is no longer the time of the opening bell, so time has moved on. The simple past would be the usual tense to use here.

continues vs continued

Here the past tense would not be incorrect - it is being offered as a factor in effect at the time of the opening bell - but it would not be as informative. The statement is not just saying that the debates concerning the fiscal cliff was dominating market at the time of the opening bell, but also that it was doing so at the time of writing. The use of present tense therefore has a different meaning, and that different meaning was intended.

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thank you. Would using "has continued" instead of "continues" alter the meaning of the sentence? I think the meaning won't be altered because present perfect would indicate that the dominating effect exists at the time of writing. –  Alex Dec 26 '12 at 17:42
    
Yes, "has continued" would also have that meaning of applying to the present. "Continues" sounds more immediate, which many would favour. That said, some might favour "has continued" for much the same reason; the subtle difference in tone suits the image some news services try to convey, better than some others. –  Jon Hanna Dec 26 '12 at 17:50

Your version is not very good. It is using present tense to represent events in the past, at the opening bell on Wednesday. The narrative present is rare, and often misunderstood.

Just use past tense there.

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thanks- makes sense. Is it ok to use the word "continued" instead of "continues"? U.S. stocks were modestly higher at the opening bell Wednesday as political wrangling over the fiscal cliff continued to dominate the market. –  Alex Dec 26 '12 at 15:37
    
I think it should be "has continued" since the political wrangling has its effect till the present moment. Could you please clarify? –  Alex Dec 26 '12 at 16:21
    
@Alex The CNN sentence relates one fact which occurred in the immediate past (the state of the market at the opening bell), which may no longer have been true when the true when the story was written or may no longer be true at the time the story is read, and another fact (the influence of politics on the market) which was still true at the time the story was written and which the author is confident will still be true at the time the story is read. –  StoneyB Dec 26 '12 at 17:43

Present tense forms with a stative predicate are used for a situation which holds true as of the time of speaking. (Note the caveat in the other answer about the narrative present) If you say:

Stocks are higher Wednesday...

This can be used without any problem if (i) it is Wednesday now, and (ii) Stocks are now higher. Even so, you would probably just say "today" instead of "Wednesday".

Stocks are higher as of the opening bell today...

(Note that you say as of instead of at when talking about a situation which is presently true, and which became true some time earlier) It means that the opening bell rang some hours ago, and stocks have been higher, in a sustained fashion, since yesterday's closing bell. (do exchanges close with a bell also?)

The CNN blurb would be used in a news report taking place on a Wednesday (probably after the market's closing; note that it's only on news reports that they say the name of the day even if it's today), to indicate that the stock prices went up overnight and opened higher on Wednesday morning.

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