When saying a sentence like:

Nikola Tesla __ famous because he was a genius.

Should the blank be replaced by is or was?

Or is it dependent on when the person is/was famous? If so, what exactly are the rules?

I searched on Google and English.SE but didn't find an answer, even after using quotes to counter the amount of stop words in the question...


1 Answer 1


The state of being famous can vary with time, so if he is still famous, and you're talking about his modern fame rather than his past fame, then use "is". But if you're talking about his past fame, especially if he is no longer famous, use "was". Or if you want to emphasize the reason why he got famous at the time, use "became".

He is famous for his genius.

He was famous because people liked geniuses back then.

He became famous because he knew how to work the press.

  • 2
    Some people were famous in the past but are totally unknown in the present, so if you're talking about fame that no longer exists, use was. One of my American intellectual history profs assured the class that a certain woman writer I'd never heard of before (or since) was, during the 1920s, quite a famous American novelist. I can't remember her name. Only a handful of literary scholars know about her.
    – user21497
    Feb 12, 2013 at 14:53
  • @BillFranke Like he said. +1
    – bib
    Feb 12, 2013 at 15:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.