I recently came across an article about Taiwan's education, and in it is this sentence:

"In 2014 just 200,000 babies are born in Taiwan, according to the Taipei Times."

My question is that 2014 is in the past, so why do they use "are born" instead of "were born"?

  • 2
    "were born" is the correct form. – Centaurus May 10 '15 at 1:52
  • 1
    This may be a case of using the historical present – Jim May 10 '15 at 2:19
  • Mistranslation? – keshlam May 10 '15 at 4:49
  • Jim: what is "historical present?" – Steven Lin May 11 '15 at 10:39
  • 1
    @StevenLin It's a link, follow it. And if you want someone to see your comment, put @ before their name so they'll be notified. – Barmar May 11 '15 at 16:32

I have no formal etymology training. Let me say that this sentence is similar to stating "In 1849 gold is discovered in California, according to an article in the New York Times." The speaker is referencing a statement (by Taipei Times) which was posted in the past but, which at that given time, was speaking about a current event. The births obviously occurred throughout 2014 and at the end of the year the total number of births was reported statistically. At the time of the census the total births are considered to be current events which would make the phrase in the present tense. Similar construction may be found in sentences such as "A few years ago scientists reported that Pluto is not a planet." To say that "Pluto was not a planet" would imply that Pluto never had planetary criteria to be classified as such. A phrase such as a quotation, when presented without quotation marks, should be considered in its original tense as having been spoken in the present. I gladly appreciate any constructive criticism on my logic.


To elaborate on Jim's answer regarding the historical present:

As it stands, without context, I'd say the tense is wrong; babies were born in the past.

However, if this is part of a report about, for example, a series of events over a period of time, it would be perfectly acceptable to use the present tense throughout. Consider (with completely made-up statistics and events, of course):

Taiwan is clearly a haven for extraterrestrials, now that it is no longer under British rule. Just consider this sequence of events:

  • On the night of August 1, 1997, thousands of citizens report strange lights in the sky.
  • Between 1998 and 2010, Taiwan's coal imports decrease from 50 million tons to only 5 tons per year. Oil imports decrease by 80% as well.
  • During this same period, despite the incredible reduction of energy imports, manufacturing somehow increases by 500%.
  • In 2014 just 200,000 babies are born in Taiwan, according to the Taipei Times, yet the population remains constant. Why aren't people dying?
  • In 2016, Taiwan invades and annexes North Korea, destroys ISIL, eliminates all disease worldwide, and produces enough food to feed the entire planet.
  • In 2017, Taipei declares itself the world's ultimate language authority and globally abolishes the historical present tense.

It depends on the context:

If the article has been speaking in the present tense up to that point as if in a story-like style, putting the reader in the perspective of the events as they happen, then it is fine to keep using the present.

If the article has been speaking in the past tense as if looking back on the events from a historical perspective, then the past tense should be used.

Source - Historical Present

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