# Use simple past or present? [duplicate]

Between these sentences:

Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There was a bridge that connected them.

Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There is a bridge that connects them.

Which one is correct when telling a story if the bridge still exists, if the bridge no longer exists, and if i don't know whether the bridge still exists or not?

1. Let's see, I shall start from the last part of your question.

There should be a bridge that connects them -> it's supposed to be there, that much we know. (If there was used to be, that would mean then, that the bridge no longer exists)

1. Now, the second sentence:

Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There is a bridge that connects them.

It is plain here, that the bridge still exists and that we know about it.

1. And finally the first sentence:

Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There was a bridge that connected them.

From my point of view, the Past Simple in "there was a bridge..." indicates, that the bridge no longer exists...

...or does it? It's a bit tricky question I think. To me the Past Simple here does not give full certainty as to whether that bridge is still there or not. We know that there was, because a friend of ours told us so. But is it still there? It depends on what follows after these two sentences.

I hope this was of little help. Do correct me, if I'm wrong in my understanding.

This is a question of logic rather than mere proofreading.

All statements start in the same way with
{Statement about an event at a past time}
Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations.

This is followed by three alternatives:

The bridge is known to exist now

{Statement about a present truth relating to those stations now}
There is a bridge that connects them.

This tells us the bridge exists now but does not tell us if it existed ten years ago or not. To suggest that did not exist ten years ago you could say
There is now a bridge that connects them.
Emphasis using "now" suggests a contrast with the past, implying that the bridge did not exist then.

The Bridge is known not to exist now

{Statement about a past truth relating to those stations at that past time}
There was a bridge that connected them.

Although true, this does not tell us if the bridge exists now or not. To suggest that it no longer exists you could say
There was a bridge at that time that connected them.
Emphasis using "at that time" suggests a contrast with the present, implying that the bridge no longer exists.

It is not known if the bridge now exists or not

{Statement about a truth relating to those stations at that past time}
There was a bridge that connected them.

The last statement tells us that there was a bridge in the past but tells us nothing about the present. To suggest the uncertainty of its still being there - or if it still exists or not - needs additional prose. To give only one example: There was a bridge, which may still be there, that connected them.

The first sentence, "there was" means that a bridge was there at the time of showing (ten years ago). It tells us nothing about whether the bridge is still there, or even if the speaker knows it is still there. For example, if telling a story focussed on the past, it makes no sense to jump between past and present tense depending on what you know.

For example:

Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There was a bridge that connected them. We walked across it, drinking beer, and he told me his life story. It was at that time I got the idea for turning it into a TV show.

No speaker would suddenly switch to the present tense in the middle of that just because he happens to know that the bridge still exists.

The second sentence "there is" means that the bridge is there at the time of telling. It probably means the bridge was there at the time of showing the locations, but not always.

We need to get the supplies from one station to the other. Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations, and there is a bridge that connects them, built a couple of years ago.

• Re the first sentence: I can envisage a possible tense change to the present in the story, if something is said as an aside. When I was a child I went to Scotland with my parents and we gazed at the Forth Bridge, the construction of which began in 1882. It is of course a railway bridge. If I used was in the second sentence it would suggest to the reader or listener either that the bridge no longer existed or that it no longer took trains.
– WS2
Feb 5, 2022 at 17:48
• The whole thing hinges on what message one is trying to convey, and/or what impression one is trying to create - and one chooses one's verb tenses accordingly.
– WS2
Feb 5, 2022 at 17:56

You are trying to force the verbs to do too much work:

1. Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There used to be a bridge that connected them. (It is no longer there.)

2. Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There [still] is a bridge that connects them. (It is still there.)

3. Ten years ago he showed me the location of the stations. There was a bridge that connected them that could/might still be there. (You don’t know if it’s still there.)

• "was" is a perfectly good substitute for "used to be". Feb 5, 2022 at 17:14
• Hmm... I'm not sure that it is. OED: b. In uses referring to the past. Usually with the sense that the action described was formerly habitual but has been discontinued; I'm not sure that "was" is that strong. "I remember him - he was quite tall." "I remember him - he used to be quite tall." Feb 5, 2022 at 17:29