What is the correct tense to use when I'm referring to something which was in effect in the past, like a law or an act, but which now is not.
Which of the following is better?
- The Statute of Anne used to grant ...
- The Statute of Anne granted ...
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
You would almost always use "granted" and not "used to grant", except in very limited circumstances.
Context is important as always, but for a sentence like "The Statute of Anne granted the right to beat your child on Fridays," you would never use "used to grant". The Statute granted the right: it's a statement of fact of something (the grant) happening at a particular point in time.
You would use "used to" with a verb like "allow", if that permission no longer existed. The state of allowing started at a point in time, and continued for a period before coming to an end.
The Statute of Anne used to allow children to be beaten on Fridays
...but it doesn't now because it's been repealed.
"Used to grant" would be used where granting was a habitual action which was repeated but no longer occurs. "The Statute of Anne used to grant children an extra day off school at Christmas" — that is, several discrete grants were made.
I'm sure someone will chime in with the correct names for the tenses in these examples.
Both are good, but I think the first choice is better.
Because you see, when we say,
The Status of Anne used to grant ...
we show a little continuity of some act in past, or it being forcefull in past.
Now when we say,
The Status of Anne granted ...
It expresses the act or law as more of a past and less of its forcefulness or effectiveness in past.