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A: And then just before the killer gets the girl and stabs her with this giants knife, the power went out and the TV went off. It was freaky. B: Wow. That's terrifying. Was the power out for long? A: Just for a few seconds. When everything came back on, the image on the screen was of the girl's dead body.

before the killer gets the girl and stabs her with this giants knife Why is present tense used instead of past tense? I think A watched movie in the past so past tense should be used after 'before' in this sentence.

The night before he was to leave, he was unable to sleep.

He didn't mention anything about an appointment before he left.

He ate it up before he could say knife.

I tried to find other sentences in dictionary to compare with this sentence but they made me more confused. why is present tense used after BEFORE even though A already watched the scene that killer stabs her?

  • The person is relating the events in the movie in the present tense. This is a fairly standard thing to do, although it ends up sounding funny here, when movie events are mixed with events in real life. – Peter Shor Nov 9 '13 at 23:15
  • Thank you for your explanation! I didn't know it is standard thing to do:) I really appreciate it! – user57018 Nov 10 '13 at 10:49
  • Yes. "I went to a great movie last night. This boy lives in a broom closet …" would be a natural switch of tenses. Your example sounds weird (at least to me) because of the way the real world events interact with the movie events. – Peter Shor Nov 10 '13 at 10:52
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The sentence you offer lacks tense parallelism, and most people would consider it to be grammatically problematic.

There are time when there is a tense shift to signify a contrast between two reported events. Often the earlier activities are described in the past perfect and the later activities in the past. That is not want is occurring here.

All of the events occurred sometime in the past, and while there is a sequence, using the present and shifting to the past is a bit jarring. Better approaches would be to narrate all of the activities in the present or all in the past:

And then just before the killer gets the girl and stabs her with this giant knife, the power goes out and the TV goes off.

or

And then just before the killer got the girl and stabbed her with this giant knife, the power went out and the TV went off.

The first example uses the present to narrate events that have occurred in the past, but that is a standard convention, creating a scenario as if the events are currently being viewed.

The phrasing makes clear what the sequence is. If you felt an overwhelming need to use tenses to emphasize the sequence, you could say (but it would sound a bit stilted):

And then, just before the killer got the girl and stabbed her with this giant knife, the power had gone out and the TV had gone off.

  • Excellent answer. One think I would perhaps add—event though it is not entirely relevant—is that one can switch to the historic present between sentences, but not within the same sentence. (And certainly not from historic present to simple past within the same sentence, as you have explained.) – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Nov 9 '13 at 23:06
  • Thank you so much. Actually, this dialogue is 'daily study' from the news paper for improving English speaking skills, so I didn't expect there are grammatical errors. Now I can see what is problem in the sentence thanks to you. You help me a lot. I do appreciate it. Thanks for your kindness!! – user57018 Nov 10 '13 at 10:57

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