In the following context:

Holly begins by telling the narrator about a man named Sally Tomato who is a member of the Mafia. She remembered seeing this man at Joe Bell's bar as a regular before he was arrested. Holly Golightly describes how a lawyer pays her $100 to speak to Sally every week. Holly eventually drifts off to sleep, but gets annoyed when she starts speaking in her sleep and leaves the narrator's room.

In general, the tense used in the above context is present tense except the sentence in bold, which is past tense.

My question is that can I apply present tense to this sentence in this paragraph?

Further more

When I'm having a conversation with someone, which one of the two sentences is more proper?

1): I remember you have two boys.

2): I remembered you have two boys.

According to my own understanding about the word 'remember'. When present tense is used, it is to emphasize the action of the verb which happens now. And when past tense is used, it is to emphasize the fact that I have remembered something. Is this correct?*

  • Can you tell us where you found this (like is it an IMDb type thing) and possibly provide a link?
    – Em.
    Sep 9, 2016 at 6:13
  • @HenryWang 1) To change the sentence to the present: She remembers seeing this man at Joe Bell's bar as a regular before he was arrested. That's all. Simply use the simple present. 2) That depends on the conversation. Either sentence could be appropriate, and both are grammatical. There is nothing special about the verb remember. The action of recalling from memory can occur in the present or in the past. When we use, for instance, the past tense of the verb to say or to bake, this also emphasizes speaking or baking that has happened in the past. Sep 9, 2016 at 6:35
  • @Max This is a short summary of book Breakfast at Tiffany's written by a Native speaker.
    – Henry Wang
    Sep 9, 2016 at 9:25
  • How should I decided when to choose present tense and when to choose past tense?
    – Henry Wang
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:05

1 Answer 1


You are correct. Present tense indicates that the action occurs in the present. Past tense indicates that the action occurs in the past.

I remember his blue tie.

I remember (now) his blue tie.

I remembered his blue tie.

I remembered (at some point in the past) his blue tie.

When the police detective was questioning me yesterday about the bank robbery the day before, I remembered the robber's blue tie.

In the passage quoted, the author shifts into the past tense for reasons unexplained. A practiced author would be very aware of tense, but this sort of shift is not uncommon among ordinary speakers. When they are narrating a series of events, their grammatical choices often reflect an unspoken thought. Or it could be that the author of the summary is referring to Holly's seeing this man at the bar on a number of occasions in the past, and the "pastness" of those sightings caused the speaker to choose "remembered" instead of "remembers". Another possibility is that the present tense is merely a formal convention for such summaries. In reality, the author of the summary has read the book in the past, and is describing something from his or her own past (memory of the book's plot), and the natural tendency would be to use the past tense.

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