My sentence is

In Charles Dickens' book Oliver Twist, the stingy orphanage director doles out just one small bit of soup to the hungry orphans.

The main question is should it be doles or doled? Could it be either?

  • Is it a single bit for all the orphans or for each orphan? Maybe “doles out just a tiny bit of soup to each hungry orphan. – Jim Jun 5 '17 at 15:06

Obviously everything here occurred in the past, and if you are simply writing something dispassionate then doled would be the tense to use.

However, the present tense ("doles") is often used when the author wants to instil a sense of immediacy. The device even has a name: historic present (or historical present, dramatic present, narrative present).

There isn't enough of your snippet to determine whether the historic present is actually what you might reasonably employ here. Suffice to say that the answer to the question is that both can be correct.

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