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?

  1. The Statute of Anne used to grant ...
  2. The Statute of Anne granted ...
  • 1
    What's "Status of Anne"? – user20934 Jun 27 '12 at 17:30
  • @rudra: Sorry. It was a typo :P – user278064 Jun 27 '12 at 17:34

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...but it doesn't now because it's been repealed.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.


Much will depend on context. For example, if you were describing the effects of the law, you’d use the first. If you were describing what the statute actually said, you’d use the second.

  • Oh, come on, you two. What's wrong with that? – Barrie England Jun 27 '12 at 17:44
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    Just for the removal of doubt, I haven't downvoted. But I do disagree. – Andrew Leach Jun 27 '12 at 18:02
  • 1
    @Andrew Leach: With what? – Barrie England Jun 27 '12 at 18:35
  • 2
    With the answer! To describe the effect of the law with "granted", you'd generally use the second. But as you say, much depends on the context and we never seem to get enough of that. – Andrew Leach Jun 27 '12 at 18:46
  • @Andrew Leach: I can hear a disgruntled eighteenth century author saying ‘Yeh, that Statute of Anne used to protect our copyright, but it doesn’t any longer.’ That may not be good history, but it’s good enough grammar. – Barrie England Jun 27 '12 at 20:45

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.

  • 1
    Please fix the spelling, grammar, and capitalization mistakes. -1 – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jun 27 '12 at 17:53

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