Should I use past tense to describe something of a permanent nature/situation?

"The Taipei 101 stands at ... (height) is the most famous financial centre in Taiwan and it has 101 floor of storeys".

Since I'm writing an essay entitled "My holiday", should I write "The Taipei 101 stood at... was the most famous financial centre in Taiwan and it had 101 floor of storeys?"

"The card access system is a fully automated system that links with... and then the data captured is..."

As I'm writing my CV, I just wonder I should use past tense to describe the system/program that I had designed, but in fact they are still existing and running at present though I had left the previous company. Would it be more consistent with the text of other tasked performed if I write

"The card access system was a fully automated system that linked with... and then the data captured was ..."

so that my whole text would be in past tense?

  • Delete the "The" before "Taipei 101" unless you add "skyscraper" or "building" after "101". => "Taipei 101, which is ??? feet tall and has 101 storeys, is the most famous financial centre in Taiwan". I'm not sure that "financial centre" is the correct term for that building, but I'll let that go. The rest of the question requires more thought than I have time for right now. Sorry. – user21497 Oct 31 '12 at 3:36
  • 4
    Hi jean, welcome to ELU. I think your question is too basic for this site, but you might want to consider the proposed site for English Language Learners. As for the specific issue of verb tense, I suggest you assume you should always use present tense for things which are still true now (not were still true now, obviously! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '12 at 3:40
  • Both your questions have issues related with style of writing. Depending on style preference, either present tense or past tense can be adopted. For more on this, try writersSE or some of the excellent online resources on effective writing. – Kris Oct 31 '12 at 4:26
  • As a rule of thumb, fiction tends to be written in the past tense as it deals (mainly) with not-now-real (in fact, of course, not-ever-real) situations. The past tense is maintained (or tense artfully avoided, by using small clauses or parentheses, for example) when references to obvious real persons, buildings, places, situations... that are still existing, are included. In factual writing, the present tense is usually used when dealing with persons, buildings, places, situations... that are still existing, and with facts. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 31 '12 at 9:30
  • You can base your events in past tense since they've already transpired, but places in your story, if still in existence, are not referred to in the past tense. If the reputation or condition of the place has changed, you can say something like, "the train station, once the busiest in the region, now feels dark and empty". – Kristina Lopez Oct 31 '12 at 10:43

In non-fiction about an object, person, or place still in existence at the time of writing, I think it is appropriate to use present tense in describing aspects of that thing which are still true. I would go so far as to say that using past tense would imply that circumstances have changed or that the item in question is no longer existing. On the other hand, your activities on your holiday are in the past so they should be described in the past tense.

As for your CV, I would use a different tack. The actions that you performed are in the the past, so describe them clearly as such. For example, "I designed the card system that linked with a whatchamacallit." It may not matter that the card system still has those properties since you only dealt with it when it did. On the other hand, if you would like to emphasize that your design was so excellent that it was never changed or improved upon, you are free to do so afterwards: "I designed the card system that linked with a whatchamacallit. This design is so efficient that it is still in use."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.