This is not correct, right? Mixing present tense and past tense makes me think it is not correct but I see it so often on signs that I'm not even sure any more. Is there a specific reason why it's often said like that or is it just consistently overlooked?

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    No, it's not correct modern English, but it is traditional, so we all pretend that's what Aramaic sounds like. – John Lawler Apr 3 '15 at 15:19
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    @JohnLawler: Well, we say bread is risen. And even though the Eucharist may be unleavened, I suppose we could chalk all this up to the miracle of transubstantiation, or fermentation, or one of those -ations. – Robusto Apr 3 '15 at 15:40
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    Intransitive verbs used to form their perfect forms with to be + past participle. He is risen; we are fallen; I am come; it is ended; they are departed; she is gone. We still use that last one. In fact, the number of verbs thus conjugated has steadily fallen over the centuries, so that we now use only that last one. – Anonym Apr 3 '15 at 20:43
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    @LightningRacisinObrit No, it isn’t. Professor Lawler’s right: it’s an archaic present perfect construction now incorrect in current English. KJV: John 3:25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. Acts 7:34 …I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. Jer 32:2 …The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness… – tchrist Apr 5 '15 at 13:33
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    Comments have been trimmed (and probably could be trimmed more). Comments are intended to elicit further information from the OP or to provide further relevant information which the OP may choose to incorporate in the post. They are not for discussion and are certainly not for argument. – Andrew Leach Apr 5 '15 at 16:54
up vote 50 down vote accepted

Given that this has appeared around Easter (albeit a couple of days early in my calendar), I'm going to answer on the basis of the phrase

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

which is used in some traditions.

There are two ways of looking at this.

  1. It's an archaic use of English which conjugates verbs of motion with be in present perfect, in much the same way as French still does. The statement is the equivalent of "Christ has risen" and is stating a present-perfect fact.

  2. It's stating an eternal truth that not only did he rise all those years ago, but he remains risen now. That is, not just "he has risen" but "he is risen" and risen is closer to being an adjective than a pure participle.

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    I am confused. The use of the present tense of "to be" with the past participle of a verb is still widely used in English today. One example: "I am confused". – Walter Mitty Apr 4 '15 at 13:08
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    But "I am confused" isn't the same present-pefect construction as "He has risen". "He is risen" is a present-perfect construction. – Andrew Leach Apr 4 '15 at 14:06
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    @AndrewLeach: "He is gone." This is not 'archaic'. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 4 '15 at 23:45
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    As to whether the present-perfect with "to be" is archaic: it's no longer the general rule in common use AFAIK. On encountering a teenager before 10am on a weekend we'd be more likely to say "You've risen early today" than "You're risen early today". I'd speculate that "he is risen" persists in that form precisely because it's known from the King James Bible. The NIV says "he has risen". Of course it's comprehensible and in use, but if a canned phrase whose form is due to an obsolete grammar rule isn't "archaic", then presumably "archaic" is required to mean "not uttered these hundred years". – Steve Jessop Apr 5 '15 at 2:19
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    @LightningRacisinObrit The gone in that case is probably an adjective meaning "Away, having left." as in "Are they gone?" or "Is he gone". Compare to "Are they risen?" and "Is he risen?". – Pharap Apr 5 '15 at 8:08

Affirming Andrew Leach's answer, the Paschal Greeting can be classified as a set phrase in many languages--especially those influenced by Orthodox Christianity.

He is risen is perceived in modern English as a predicate adjective, but it is technically an archaic present perfect construction from Matthew 28:6:

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
KJV Bible Gateway
Emphasis mine

The translators of the KJV used this construction to translate the aorist passive ἠγέρθη in the Greek text:

οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἠγέρθη γὰρ καθὼς εἶπεν: δεῦτε ἴδετε τὸν τόπον ὅπου ἔκειτο:
Emphasis mine

The Greek aorist passive has no precise equivalent in English, and this present perfect construction was particularly useful for verbs that presented an ongoing state resulting from a past action like ἐγείρω:

A. to arouse from sleep, to awake
B. to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life

Some have tried to parse this as a simple present passive construction, but that is problematic. To distinguish it from the predicate adjective with a past participle, the simple present passive normally demands an explicit agent :

Simple Present
Active : Once a week, Tom cleans the house.
Passive: Once a week, the house is cleaned by Tom.
Emphasis mine

Regardless of the parsing, the expression is designed to emphasize--for theological reasons--the present state of a past action. Orthodox Christians are taught the preeminence of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation of his ultimate sovereignty and their eternal hope, impregnating the entire antiphonal greeting with theological significance:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Unbelievers can find solace in the fact that this greeting is rarely used outside of the church building.

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    "Unbelievers can find solace in the fact that this greeting is rarely used outside of the church building." lol! – anongoodnurse Apr 4 '15 at 8:28
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    The King James Version was British English for more than 100 years before the revolution. – ScotM Apr 5 '15 at 0:01
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    @LightningRacisinObrit Pretty sure the hymn "Christ the Lord is Risen today" was written by an Englishman (Charles Wesley), for the English (the Church of England). I know I've seen it performed on Easter from Westminster Abbey. And as far as I know, the greeting phase, like the KJV, originated in England and later spread to the U.S. – RBarryYoung Apr 5 '15 at 1:03
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    Sorry, @LightningRacisinObrit, I was taking my cue from ODO British & World English, which marked it as archaic. It makes sense that we Americans are more comfortable with that designation. We tend to parse the construction as a predicate adjective by default. – ScotM Apr 5 '15 at 12:59
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    @LightningRacisinObrit There is nothing US-specific about any of these answers. Using be to form the perfect of intransitive verbs or verbs of motion is archaic, in all forms and dialects of English that I am aware of. Be is now only used with past participles where (a) the sense is passive, or (b) the participle is used as an adjective (“she is gone”; “he is sadly departed”, meaning ‘dead’). In no dialect of English is it common nowadays to say, “We are arrived at King’s Cross” or “The train was already left when I made it to the platform”, for example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 5 '15 at 14:13

It is correct Early Modern English meaning "He has risen". In older novels one can still find similar sentences, such as "He is come to see you, my Lord."

Present perfect is a phenomenon that emerged in / has spread over many European languages. I believe initially the construction was restricted to certain verbs. In any case, it originally used either to have or to be as the auxiliary, depending on what made more sense for the (full) verb in question. Examples for this:

  • He has bought a coat. (He has a coat because he bought one.)
  • She has seen the cat. (She has a cat in her mind because she saw one.)
  • I am gone home. (I am home because I went there.)
  • He is risen. (He is upright - or in heaven - because he rose.)

This selection between to have and to be can still be observed in many (most?) of the European languages that have a present perfect. E.g. in German, Dutch and French (and probably many others), the rule is approximately that to be is used for verbs of motion and to have for all other verbs. The details differ between these languages (and also between northern and southern speakers of German). To have is slowly taking over one after another of the verbs whose present perfect was originally formed with to be. English is one of the few languages in which this process has already been completed. See Wikipedia on Perfect constructions with auxiliaries for details.

(Interesting detail: In some variants of South American Spanish there is a recent development towards using the full verb tener instead of the auxiliary haber, which can no longer be used to express possession.)

  • It’s interesting how English and Spanish started from the same place and went to the same place: that is, from distinguishing perfects with have versus be, to using only have. Although Modern Spanish uses haber (to have) for forming perfects, In Old Spanish, perfect constructions of movement verbs, such as ir (to go) and venir (to come), were formed using the auxiliary verb ser (to be), as in modern Italian and French. For example, Las mugieres son llegadas a Castiella (Las mujeres han llegado a Castilla). – tchrist Apr 5 '15 at 15:54
  • If you read the original text of El Cantar de mio ÇId, you can find these old-style present perfects of intransitives being used with be not with have, just as French and German still use them and as English once did. Furthermore, in that poem they even make participles of active verbs agree in gender and number with a preceding direct object, the same rule which still applies in French and in (northern) Italian. – tchrist Apr 5 '15 at 15:56
  • Sometimes I find it weird that Portuguese does not have a present perfect -- at least not with the same meaning as in English. Present + past participle in Portuguese should be translated in English as a present perfect continuous... or as present perfect depending on the circumstances. – Joseph Apr 5 '15 at 16:49
  • @Joseph In portuguese we have an equivalent structure, the Composite Past Perfect, that is exactly the same construction - I have helped him since (...) Eu tenho ajudado ele desde (...). In those constructions, "have" and "tenho" are the same verb (to have/Ter), but the "ter", as all the verbs in portuguese, must be adjusted to the context and becomes "tenho". – T. Sar Apr 7 '15 at 21:03

It is not contemporary English, as others note in their answers, but mixing present and past tense is not the problem. There is no past tense in the form. I suppose you're taking "risen" to be a past participle, and it is, but despite the name, a "past participle" is not past. It's misleading terminology -- don't let it confuse you.

The past tense (perfect) would be he rose. But this is confirming Jesus' present state of being a risen person. Therefore in this use I wonder might it not be an adjective.

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    Yes, it doesn't refer to an act or a state, but an attribute -- an adjective. The use of phrases like "the risen Christ" confirms that this isn't a on-off special plea. – Dan Sheppard Apr 3 '15 at 16:27
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    No, it is not an adjective. It is the present perfect. – Casey Apr 4 '15 at 18:59
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    It is a past participle employed as an adjective. – Walter Mitty Apr 5 '15 at 2:19

While the sentence could be taken legal modern English (with the same sentence structure as He is here), the real answer is that it is an archaic form.

The King James Version of the Bible consistently uses such language -- for example "He is come", in John 16:8.

In older English, forms of to be rather than forms of to have are used, if the verb is a verb of motion. Hence, he is risen.

This behavior can be traced back to German, the principal ancestor of English grammar.

For example to eat is not a verb of motion, and to travel is a verb of motion.

  • English: He has eaten. -- German: Er hat gegessen. -- Archaic English: He has eaten.

  • English: He has traveled. -- German: Er ist gereist. -- Archaic English: He is traveled.

Being a verb of motion can be a tough distinction, with differing opinions and accepted exceptions. Fortunately, English speakers today don't have to worry about such distinctions.

protected by Robusto Apr 5 '15 at 14:30

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