In a manuscript I am working on I have the following sentence:

Woodland Pond is created by an earth dam.

An editor changed this to:

Woodland pond was created by an earth dam.

My rationale for using the present tense is that although the dam was constructed in the past, the pond is currently being created by the dam.

Which is correct?

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    'Create' is almost always a punctive verb, describing an event which took or takes place over a time short enough to be considered a single point in the context involved. So the dam was created and is now being maintained. When the dam was half-finished, there would be no pond. The pond was initially created just after the dam was created, and now continues to exist because the dam is still in place. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 16 '17 at 16:38
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    I personally like your interpretation; we never step in the same river twice, and the pond is created anew every moment that water rushes in and does not immediately rush out. Perhaps it is too poetic a usage for, say, an informational brochure, though. – 1006a Aug 16 '17 at 17:03
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    @WeatherVane Ponds do generally have inflow and outflow, particularly those created by damming a river or stream: the water of the stream continues to flow in at the original rate, then the dam slows it enough to pool, releasing it to flow on at a much reduced rate. Modern dams are able to control this release rate, perhaps stopping it entirely during drought and increasing it tremendously when flooding is threatened to (hopefully) prevent the dam being overtopped. – 1006a Aug 16 '17 at 19:04
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    @WeatherVane the pond in question does in fact have a permanent inflow and outflow and due to its relatively small volume has a rather low water residence time. While ponds (or lakes) are standing water relative to streams, I think it is wrong to think of them as stagnant bodies of water, most have considerable water exchange. – DQdlM Aug 16 '17 at 20:27
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    @WeatherVane: The wikipedia article you quote from says some organizations and researchers have settled on technical definitions of pond and lake which rely on size alone. Many, many lakes have inflow and outflow. (Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Champlain, Lake Windermere, all have outflows. The Great Salt Lake doesn't.) If ponds couldn't have outflows, then there would be a way to distinguish them from lakes. Not to mention that the many bodies of water called ponds I know about in Massachusetts all have outflows. – Peter Shor Aug 16 '17 at 23:24

The pond is currently being maintained or retained by the dam. The creation has happened. If the pond hasn't yet been filled for the first time, you could argue that it is being created by the dam.

Creation is a one off process.

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  • 1
    Except that "by" is wrong. The pond was created by people with a dam. – Carl Witthoft Aug 16 '17 at 17:21
  • @CarlWitthoft or beavers. Even a blockage caused by a landslide, having the form of a dam, can be referred to as a dam. In the last case (or other natural processes) there's no intent to create a pond; I don't know what the beavers are thinking. – Chris H Aug 16 '17 at 19:43
  • @ChrisH no beavers, they do not create earth dams. We use bulldozers. – Weather Vane Aug 16 '17 at 20:13
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    @WeatherVane of course they don't, but they do build dams that create ponds. That was an example to address the issues of agency Carl raised – Chris H Aug 16 '17 at 20:24
  • I would avoid 'retain' unless it really is a sewage or stormwater retention pond and you want to call attention to that fact. – Phil Sweet Aug 16 '17 at 21:32

The idiomatic way to say this is "Woodland Pond is formed by an earth dam." This works in all registers from regulatory documents to casual conversation.

Carlton Pond Waterfowl Production Area is a 1,055-acre (4.27 km2) artificial pond and wetland located in the town of Troy in Waldo County, Maine. The pond is formed by an earthen dam which backs up Carlton Brook.

wikipedia: Carlton Pond Waterfowl Production Area

Ice is cut from these ponds by Earl Carpenter & Sons They also receive ice from Northbridge and Dodgeville At North bridge the pond is formed by the railroad embankment cutting off a bend in the Blackstone river There is an open connection under the track between the pond and the river and the river water at times flows into the pond.

Annual Report of the Superintendent of Health..., Issues 1-14

(vi) Summary of Site Preparation and Construction Activities:  The Ash Pond was originally constructed between 1960 and 1965.  The pond is formed by a continuous dike referenced as the east, south, north, and west dikes.  The crest elevations of the dikes are as follows:  the east dike ranges from 102.6‐ft to 113.6‐ft, the south dike ranges from 95.5‐ft to 103‐ft, the west dike ranges from 95.5‐ft to 103.2‐ft, and the north dike ranges from 103.3‐ft to 113.6‐ft.

Source: Alabama Power Company

Emphasis mine.

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  • +1 I edited your answer to make the last link more concise. If you don't like this, just roll back. The concise link is generated by [name of source](url) with no space between ] and (. The name can be anything you like. – ab2 Aug 16 '17 at 22:39


Woodland Pond is created by an earth dam.

suggests that the pond is being made continually, almost as though there is a new one every time you visit. However, the pond exists as a static thing, and using the present tense I would write

Woodland Pond is contained by an earth dam.

I would take your editor's use of the past tense further and suggest

Woodland pond was created by the construction of an earth dam.

since the dam itself doesn't "do" anything.

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