I'm a non-native English speaker.

Given the sentence:

The English word " olive " derives from the Latin word "oliva".

Why is the present tense used, not the past tense?

If I say,

The English word " olive " derived from the Latin word "oliva".

is this wrong?


From Merriam-Webster, a definition of derive is:

to have or take origin

At every point in time, since the creation of the word olive, it takes its name from the Latin name. In a sense, it is an ongoing act, not a single act in the past.

We use the present tense, because, at the time of inquiry as to the derivation of the word "olive", we are able to say that it "takes its origin" from Latin. "Takes its origin" is in the present tense, thus "derives" should be in the present tense.

  • Thanks! Can the same explanation applies to "Olive comes from oliva" or "Olive is from oliva." or "Olive originates in oliva"? Are all of them the same in meaning? – user1610952 Jul 15 '14 at 19:48
  • 1
    The word olive is derived from the Latin olīva. That is correct as well. – anongoodnurse Jul 15 '14 at 20:05
  • It's simply a part of the same word. It's been a current word in hundreds of languages for thousands of years. It's still alive and is still spoken millions of times a day. That's present tense. Words are not created, like postage stamps; they evolve, like insects. And evolutionary language uses the present tense, except for extinct species. – John Lawler Jul 15 '14 at 23:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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