In my native language (not English) it is customary to use the past tense when speaking of properties and (posthumous) actions of deceased persons.

But in English, I occasionally encounter statements like: "[A. A. Milne] is the father of bookseller Christopher Robin Milne [...]" (from the Wikipedia article on A. A. Milne; my emphasis). Both A. A. Milne and his son are no longer with us, by the way.

Is this standard practice, an idiosyncrasy of certain writers, or simply a common error? In any case, the present tense for dead people mildly irritates me, but perhaps that's unreasonable.

1 Answer 1


If you describe actions of the person, you would always use the past tense. E.g.

A. A. Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh.

But relationships can be described in either the past or present tense. The relationship between a parent and child is eternal -- A. A. Milne was and always will be Christopher RObin Milne's father.

Similarly, you can say

A. A. Milne is the author of Winnie the Pooh.

No one else became the author when he died, so he's still the author.

I think the choice in these cases is simply personal style. Past tense sounds more natural to me.

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