I was referred to this sub-forum from English Language Learners Stack Exchange.

My question is why do some people on the comic message boards that I frequent use present + past tense to discuss about the current storyline or the actions leading up to it instead of the present tense + present prefect.

Summaries of the events:

Chapter 4, released last week:

Sara shaves her head after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Chapter 5, released this week:

Sara grows her hair back.

I used the present tense (following Purdue grammar guide) to summarize the events in chapter 4 and 5 so you guys would have an idea of the storyline.

Purdue OWL recommends using "present tense to describe action in a literary work, movie, or other fictional narrative."

The 3 examples below are what they would post after knowing what happened in chapter 4 and 5 which I summarized above. They use present + past tense, or just past tense to talk about the events :

Sara is growing her hair back, after she foolishly shaved her head when her boyfriend broke up with her.

She grew her hair back.

I was not surprised that she grew her hair back.

Thank you for informing me that my question didn't make sense. Please let me know if there are further problems with my question =)

  • 3
    I'm confused too, since you begin by asking why the past tense is used to discuss the current story line. However the examples you give are precisely the opposite. They use the present tense to describe past events.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 22:46
  • The 2 examples ( present tense) that I give under chapter 5 and 6 are summaries of the events that I styled in accordance with Purdue OWL recommendation. What I wanted to know is why do people use the present + past tense in the last 3 examples to connect the 2 events instead of present tense which is recommended by Purdue. Sorry for confusing guys. Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 2:45

1 Answer 1


For centuries the standard way of re-telling the events in a narrative or drama has been to express them using the ‘present’ verb constructions—simple present, present progressive or present perfect.

The notion, I suppose, is that you depict the events not as something which happened in the past but as a story unfolding in your presence, as if you were hearing them read or seeing them performed.

In these narratives the specific time referred to is constantly moving forward - just as it does in ordinary past-form narratives. Consequently, when at any given point in the narrative a previous event is alluded to, that event may quite properly be named with a past tense.

That is exactly what your two actual examples do. It's not clear what your hypotheticals are hypothesizing, but the first appears to project what Chapter 6 will write. It refers to a current event, growing her hair back, in the present, but employs a past form to describe the head shaving, which occurred before what is the "current" present.

I cannot tell what the others are supposed to represent. They appear to be comments on the content of the narratives rather than the narratives themselves.

  • Could you refer me to the resources ( such as a website or a book) that you got your information where "at any point in the narrative a previous event is alluded ... be named with a past tense." Most of books or websites I have consulted, just tell me to use present tense. Sorry for my bad grammar. Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 4:34
  • @englishlearner01 Sorry; I know this from observation. I used to be in the LitCrit racket (my doctorate's in dramatic criticism), and I've read and written tens of thousands of words in this genre. Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 11:51

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