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Which one is correct:

Today, she talks to me by phone from the middle of Italy. What is she doing there? She is working on her novel.

In the first sentence, is the tense correct, with the sentences that come after it?

Or should it be:

Today, she is talking to me by phone from the middle of Italy. What is she doing there? She is working on her novel.

Should the simple present be used or the continuous? I have to use "today" even though I know that at the moment or right now would have been a better choice.

  • You have to decide what "voice" you are using. – Hot Licks Nov 28 '15 at 17:46
  • I want to use the present cont .. as the emphasis is on the situation. The fact that she is in Italy taking pictures. – QueenB Nov 28 '15 at 17:47
  • Do we use today with the simple present? Wouldn't freq. adverbs be a better choice? – QueenB Nov 28 '15 at 17:48
  • Sounds like you are trying to use the historical present. An author might well put the whole thing in the continuous like that. However, even so, you would still have choice of present simple or continuous there. Fyi, speak by phone sounds better here, imo. – Lambie Mar 17 '18 at 22:55
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Present simple is used regular actions or habits, or for facts that are always true.

The word today is key, and it's used with the present continuous, because it's not a permanent situation, it's a temporary situation.

Present simple is often used with time expressions like usually, always, everyday, never, on Sundays, etc.

  • This is true as far as it goes, but the simple present is also used as the so-called "historical present" to report from the timeframe of the action: Today will be unusually difficult. I eat breakfast in a hurry, dress quickly, and arrive at work wearing mismatched socks. I've used the "key" word today, but the actions are not habitual. In fact, the narrative says they're unusual. – deadrat Mar 28 '16 at 6:50
  • Just out of curiosity, what was your area of mathematics? – deadrat Mar 28 '16 at 6:51
  • @deadrat I was an undergraduate student and quit. Got bored of maths, but I still love Calculus. – Alejandro Mar 28 '16 at 12:26
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The first form is incorrect, because the verb should be past tense:

"Today, she talked to me by phone from the middle of Italy. What ..."

The reason is that this appears to be relating to 'reported speech', that is, someone repeating something someone else said to another person some time later. The introductory sentence is therefore talking about an event in the past, and so the tense should match that. Regarding the tense of the rest of the paragraph, if this analysis is correct, it should probably be:

"Today, she talked to me by phone from the middle of Italy. What was she doing there? She was working on her novel."

The second version I think is also incorrect, though for a different reason. If this is in fact present tense -- that is, in the context of the paragraph the action is happening in the present -- then the word Today is not needed. Being present tense, it is necessarily 'Today'.

She is talking to me by phone from the middle of Italy. What is she doing there? She is working on her novel.

Without that first word, it almost works though the second sentence doesn't quite work now. There is one last point though. If in the here-and-now "she is talking to me" then it cannot be the case that "she is working on her novel". The same issue does not arise in the past-tense version because you are not specific about when in the past things happened.

So, an attempt to fix it might result in:

She is talking to me by phone from the middle of Italy where I interrupted her work on her latest novel.

Overall, writing things like this in the present tense is hard, though can be justified when you are telling a story and want to keep the reader feeling engaged.

  • If this were a multiple choice exam, as a best answer would you choose is talking as the correct answer for the gap (refer to the sentences above). – QueenB Nov 28 '15 at 18:02
  • Also, what do we mean when we say: Today, you talk to me like nothing happened yesterday. - why use the present simple tense with today . . . – QueenB Nov 28 '15 at 18:03
  • There is nothing wrong with either sentence. – michael_timofeev Nov 28 '15 at 18:05
  • Today, she talks to me / Today, she's talking to me .. how would you explain that the two are correct? – QueenB Nov 28 '15 at 18:10
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    I'm afraid this answer is wrong. Please consider revising (or deleting it). Today she talks to me by phone is perfectly fine to report past events from the timeframe of those events. It's called the historical present. Without more context, we can't tell the timeframe of Today she is talking to me by phone. It might be another case of the historical present, or the narrator may be reporting what's happening as he talks on the phone. There's also nothing wrong with the present progressive she is working on her novel. The progressive straddles the present time point as reported. – deadrat Mar 28 '16 at 6:44

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