Does the following sentence make any sense?

"It was dark by now, and I realized that it was time to [...],"

If it was an occurrence in the past, then wouldn't referencing it as "now" be contradictory? Or are there specific use cases where it works for narration? I'm writing a first-person story, and the character is sitting by a campfire reflecting on the day's events leading up to "now". Or "then" (?).

If it's in the past tense, then, "It was dark by then", or "By that time it was dark", would work better, but it seems to lack the same meaning.

Same goes with a sentence like, "I looked over to John, who was currently ignoring me."

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    It's fine. Writers do it all the time, substituting the present for the past to give a lend of immediacy to their prose. "By now I was realizing this woman had been a girl in my biology class . . ." – Robusto Apr 18 '15 at 18:50
  • All right! I suppose it was just one of those strange jamais-vu occurrences, because it really stopped making sense after I reread the sentence a few times. – Michel Apr 18 '15 at 18:53
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    AHDEL sense 4. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 18 '15 at 19:10
  • @Robusto: Sure - some people do it all the time. But I share OP's misgivings, and would tend to avoid using words like now, currently (or even worse, at present) in a past tense narrative. I must admit I'm not 100% consistent though - in your example I'd be happy with By this time/point I was realizing..., even though part of me says it should be by that time. – FumbleFingers Apr 18 '15 at 19:19
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    @FumbleFingers: now 4. At this point in the series of events; then: The ship was now listing to port.. From the same page: 3. at the time being referred to: The case was now ready for the jury. – Robusto Apr 18 '15 at 19:40

I found an interesting discussion on this exact topic at LinkedIn Grammar Group.

Michael M. explains:

In English tense is expressed by the verb which acts as the nucleus of the sentence. "Now" is an adverb pointing at a specific time to emphasize the time or moment under consideration. It has nothing to do with tense per se. It is perfectly acceptable to write "Now that dinner was ready, he relaxed, drinking several shots of fine scotch, as he waited for the in- laws to arrive with their dogs and disdain."

Oxford English Dictionary gives these quotations for 'now' in the past tense:

1611 Bible (King James) Mark iv. 37 The waues beat into the ship, so that it was now full.

1874 G. Bancroft Footpr. of Time viii. 201 The war was now practically concluded.

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    This is a nice answer, javaNoobs, and it can be improved upon by adding authoritative sources. Discussion with Mike M. is good; discussion with Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte is better! – ScotM Apr 18 '15 at 21:30
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    ScotM , thank you for editing I added examples as you suggested. – alx Apr 18 '15 at 22:07

It is perfectly fine and common to refer to a point in time, including the past, with the word "now". Great writers, bad writers, and all grades between have done it.

In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence. - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

By now he was drinking and drugging heavily, taking an inexorable succession of downward steps to rock bottom. - The Telegraph

Though it was now dark, I knew he was awake; because I heard him fulminating strange anathemas at finding himself lying in a pool of water. - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

It is only because you understand it that you don't even notice it when you encounter it now and again.


At this point in the series of events; then; At times; sometimes; Nowadays; In these circumstances; as things are. (TFD/AHDEL)

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    I thought the AHDEL reference was adequate. Now, I'm not so sure. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 18 '15 at 23:06

This is a very specific use case in the diverse tenses of the English language. I refer to the Future Simple II tense, whereby you would have phrases such as:

  • I will have spoken.
  • He will not have spoken.
  • Will she have spoken?

that basically denote an action that will take place some time in the future and is referred to in a point in time, in this case in the past tense.

By now, by Monday, by next year etc. are all signaling phrases for this tense, and this is exactly the case with 'It was dark by now'. 'By now' is complementing an event that will take place or should have taken place as it had in the past (in the case of the days becoming shorter/longer) which is yet expected of this year but has not occurred just yet.

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