Does sings as used in the quoted part refer to the habitual present tense or to the present tense of immediacy?

I like this song. Who sings it?

Suppose I were listening to a song and asked the question "Who sings it?" as soon as the song had stopped playing. Given that I don't even know whether the singer is dead or alive, does the question “Who sings it?” in this case therefore express the habitual present or the present of immediacy?


  • 4
    "Habitual present tense" and "present tense of immediacy" are just descriptive names given to certain phrases in certain sentences by the author of your textbook, or by your teacher. They are not terms of art in English grammar, since the present tense is used for every possible purpose, and you can't have special names for all of them. There are no tests to distinguish them, nor even definitions to base a test on, so you'll have to ask whoever taught you the terms. Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 15:40
  • 1
    What @JohnLawler said. So the answer is...*yes*: it expresses the habitual present or the present of immediacy.
    – Drew
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 16:45
  • Can you tell me in which situation I should say "who sings it"? and "who sang it"? Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 6:33
  • In popular music, a song is often associated with a particular artist or group, so it would be natural to say "Who sings it?". Classical music is not generally associated with individual performers, so if you heard a famous opera aria on the radio you might say "Who was that singing?" Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 9:59
  • 1
    Kate's suggestion is basically to clarify (both to yourself and to others) whether you are asking, "Who wrote that song?" or, "Who did we just hear performing that song?" Asking "Who sings it?" could result in a list of the varying artists who have sang a given song over time. Asking "Who sang it?" may be interpreted as either "Who /originally/ sang that song?" or as "Who did we just hear singing that song?" There's no flatly correct or incorrect question to ask, but being more specific about what you're interested in will yield a better answer.
    – webbcode
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


We should all get out more.

‘I like this song. Who sings it?’ is both common and readily understandable. In the context Indranil described I’ve heard those very words recently, and also used them myself.

I’d generally agree with John about ‘Habitual present tense’ and ‘present tense of immediacy' being just descriptiions, but not in this case.

Whatever those labels meant to the British Council it seems obvious that if the choice is as given, then the example clearly refers to a habitual action with no sense of immediacy.

Almost equally clearly, ‘who sings it’ and ‘who’s singing it’ and ‘who sang it’ are not interchangeable and Indranil’s entitled to a bit of help, here.

Very likely, as Kate said, ‘who sings it’ means ‘which one artist or group is most associated with it?’

Very likely, ‘who’s singing it’ means ‘whose version are we listening to now?’

‘Who sang it’ might be much more tricky. It might mean ‘whose version were we listening to five minutes ago?’ It also might mean ‘who most famously used to sing it when it was popular, 20 years ago?’

Worse, ‘who’s singing it’ could be ‘whose version are we listening to just now?’ and ‘Who sang it’ could be ‘whose version were we listening to just now?’ with the similarity of the two different ‘just nows’ confusing the issue.

  • The usage is being tweaked by the nature of the recording/playback environment. It could be though of as foregrounding using the historical present, or as marking a stative/durative condition of the recording itself. Also, the sense of the ethereal with respect to piped-in music might have an influence.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 18:20
  • Really, Phil? There, I thought the usage was the obvious response to the nature of the recording/playback environment… Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 23:47

I would think that simply the words "I like this song. Who sings it?" would imply that you would like to know the names of each and every person who enjoys that song and hums it while working, or sings it at a karaoke competition, rather than the original singer who pioneered the song, or the person whom you just heard singing.

  • Why would it imply that? Do people usually hear a song and want to know every person who has ever sung or hummed it?
    – Hank
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 21:56

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