Teaching English for adults we were reading a story. In the story of a man appears this sentence " He dies when he is 102 years old" An ESL adult asked me: Shouldn't be that sentence in the past,... when he was 102? I said No, it's OK the way it is;but I struggled to give him the reason. Could somebody help?

There are some questions about the use of would with the historical present on this site:

But this question is about why it is possible to use the present simple in this particular example. It does not ask about the use of would with the present simple.

I wasn't born here so English is my second language too!!!

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Centaurus, Misti, Edwin Ashworth, tchrist Jan 22 '15 at 0:02

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  • Normally, totally out of context, and in most real contexts, it should be "...died...was...". But in the context of the story there may be very particular circumstances where dies/was works. – Mitch Jan 21 '15 at 14:25

Narrative is most often in the past tense, but it is nevertheless quite common to use the historic (or narrative) present tense.

When using the historic present, the viewpoint moves along with the events described, so is is the only choice here. You could say (in a present-tense narrative) He died when he was 102 years old, and that would locate the death in the past relative to the current narrative moment (eg perhaps the narrator is looking at a picture of his father); but to change the tense in the middle of that sentence would be incoherent.


You might use this , if you were discussing a book in which one of the characters dies, and you are speaking from the perspective that he is not dead yet , but you know he will die !

You would not use this sentence in real-life, unless you were a crazy dictator who had decided to execute at some point in the future (on that persons 102nd birthday) .

regards !

  • No; Colin's explanation is the correct one. Tenses aren't always used logically. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '15 at 16:39

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