Is there a correct usage of "include" or "included" when referring to a category from the past?

For example:

TV shows from the 80's include Cheers, The Cosby Show, and Newhart.


TV shows from the 80's included Cheers, The Cosby Show, and Newhart.

I personally think both sound fine. And that maybe "include" sounds slightly better since these shows still are and will always be TV shows from the 80's.

I'm wondering though if there is a rule or guideline that governs this type of situation. Or if either one of these uses of "include" would be considered wrong.

  • Yes, of course there's a rule and asking that much might well mean this Question belongs not here but to English Language Learners. Since you are here, do you see no difference between "include" and "included" when referring to any category? It depends on what you're trying to say. "TV shows… include…" would be a bald fact, complete in itself. "TV shows… included…" would pave the way for a comparison which in this case, might be what? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 8 '18 at 21:26
  • TV shows in the 80s included ... TV shows from the 80s include ... – Hot Licks Dec 9 '18 at 1:01

Your intuition is fine here. "Include" works best when it refers to a state that still exists. In this case, the category of "TV shows from the 80s "is a currently-existing category, like "TV shows that star a child actor" or "films that have lasers in them," so the present tense form include encompasses what that category currently includes.

The past tense version included is used to refer to either a past version of a category or a state that no longer exists.

"The TV reruns that were on TBS in the 1980s included ..." 

If I were giving a narrative what someone were doing in the past that required such a list, I would also use included:

"When I built the addition to the shed, my materials included ..." 

Using include in these cases makes less sense.

Your example walks a line because it can be read in a present way (as a category still existing) or in a past way (as a category of shows that were around in the 1980s). Am I reading it as if it says "TV shows that are from the 80s" or "TV shows that were from the 80s?" Either works; either is fine. A style guide could pick include or included for consistency, but they both make sense.

Sources: these come from observations of use in the Oxford English Dictionary (def 6b of "include, v."), in forum topics like this, and from a few Corpus of Contemporary American English searches.

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