My question is related to this question about dead and alive people but it does not answer my question directly. The highest voted answer says that two verbs should be used for both people.

But if I have a long detailed paragraph about two people, I cannot keep using their names. In many instances I must use the word 'both' for brevity and clarity.

How do I compare two people (one dead, one alive) in one sentence without using two subjects in the sentence?

Some examples:

Both leaders have/had an agenda to..

Both are/were rumoured to..

Both of them are/were unhappily married..

In cases like these, which tense should be used? The present tense or the past tense?

  • 1
    You can use "or" instead of a slash. For example: "Bill Clinton and John F Kennedy have some things in common besides having been President. Both have or had Irish heritage and wives who are or were very well known." I believe this is more formally correct. Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 8:12
  • @MaxWilliams, thanks for that simple workaround! It does sound right in many cases (except when I change the order of Person X and Y midway through a paragraph to highlight some contrast).
    – Kajal
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:46

3 Answers 3


You can simply use the present perfect tense

Both leaders have had an agenda to ...

Both have been rumoured to ...

Both of them have been unhappily married ...

While the past tense suggests the activity or state is over, the present perfect describes something that has occurred in the past and may or may not be continuing into the present.

  • This sounds right to me. It doesn't sound strange to the ears at all. Thanks!
    – Kajal
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:48

You could phrase it differently

Person X has an agenda to ..., much like Person Y before him/her

Person X is rumored to ..., as Person Y was.

Ultimately, however, you're not going to be able to get around having both a present tense and past tense in the sentence.

  • This was what I read in the accepted answer of the related question. But when there are multiple comparisons to make at a time, phrasing it this way gets confusing pretty quickly.
    – Kajal
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 12:42

Since your examples use the form both are/were, I take your use of compare to mean the identification of a common attribute.

The fact that one person is dead and the other alive is irrelevant to this usage. What matters is whether the attribute is shared in the present or past. For example, both are recognised in this country and both were passengers on the same ship are fine.

If one person exhibits the attribute in the present but not in the past, and the other exhibited the attribute in the past but not in the present, then the both are/were construct isn't appropriate. Instead, try something like X is and Y was.

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