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Given that the present continuous is used for something happening now, e.g. "I am eating", and the present simple is used for general facts, e,g. "Lions eat meat", why does sports commentary do the opposite?

For example, "Smith passes to Jones" = present simple, but is used for something that is happening now;
"Smith is having success down the left wing" = present continuous, but used for a general fact;

Explanation or justification anyone?

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  • punctive (happening in what is considered as a point in time). Another usage of the present simple (this one rare outside sports commentaries). May 7, 2022 at 15:25
  • Also used in stage directions and such ... "Enter MACBETH and BANQUO" or "Witches vanish".
    – GEdgar
    May 7, 2022 at 19:54
  • The present simple is often used in narrative (more immediate than the past).
    – Colin Fine
    May 7, 2022 at 20:27

1 Answer 1

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Why?

Because it’s what works best.

It’s an unusual, if not unique, use of the present simple tense, and, despite comments, does not appear to have a formal name in general use. However I would say that it is perfectly valid and preferable to the alternatives.

First I think the poster is incorrect in thinking it is a substitute for the present continuous. Rather it is generally used for a past action, one that has just been completed and observed by the commentator, but is being reported in a way to make the listener feel he is witnessing it as it happens.

“X sends in a beautiful centre…”

“Y takes it on his chest…”

“…gets the ball under control…”

The alternative simple past destroys that, as does the perfect, which in any case is clumsy because of the auxiliary.

The past simple would be used in recapping a series of moves that led up to a shot etc.

“That was a beautiful build up to the goal. X sent in a delightful centre, Y took it on his chest, brought it under control…”

The repeated use of the auxiliary in the continuous present would be an impediment to the rapid speech needed in commentary, and it would also be confusing because the audience knows the action has finished, and that the continuous present is used for actions that have not yet been completed, e.g.

“He’s carrying the ball along the byline; he’s using his right arm to shield himself from the full back, he’s looking for someone to pass to…”

Note these are description of actions in progress (“carrying”), not of a temporary state (“having success”) which the poster implies is the sole use in commentary.

Usage of the language develops to suit the circumstances.

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  • Absolutely and here is once again on of those questions that are not likely to have specific usage references other than what a speaker like you knows for a fact.
    – Lambie
    May 7, 2022 at 20:24
  • @Lambie — Sorry. I was just about to do something else and I realized I must have misunderstood you. Was about to delete. Will do now. Apologies again.
    – David
    May 7, 2022 at 21:26
  • No worries at all. Happens to me all the time. :)
    – Lambie
    May 7, 2022 at 21:28

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