This is an anecdote made by a poster:

I had a female coworker, and she suggested that her husband and I play racquetball after work. My regular partner had bailed. So we meet up, play racquetball, and go back into the lockers to shower and then grab a beer.

Since he is giving an account of past events, shouldn't he use all past tense for the second sentence i.e. "So we met up, played racquetball, and went back into the lockers to shower and then grabbed a beer."?

3 Answers 3


For the last sentence, he shifts into the so-called historical present. This is probably prescriptively incorrect, but it's relatively common, particularly in speech and in storytelling. The best way to analyze it is up for debate, but I think this section of the Wikipedia article captures it:

More recently, analysts of its use in conversation have argued that it functions not by making an event present, but by marking segments of a narrative, foregrounding events (that is, signalling that one event is particularly important, relevant to others) and marking a shift to evaluation (Brinton 1992: 221).

I've bolded the relevant section. Shifting into the historical present to highlight a particular section of a story is relatively common, and it doesn't literally indicate present time when it happens. Instead, it calls attention to the events, (in my interpretation) making them more vivid by putting you in the story, as though it's happening right now.

I believe that this is something that happens fluidly as people speak, often without giving much thought to it. And although we can analyze usage and find patterns, it may not be possible to nail down exactly why people do it in each case. Beyond a certain point, it becomes a matter of interpretation and how the stylistic device makes you feel as a reader or listener.

So I'd say: just be aware that it's something people do and that it's not a mistake. It's more a stylistic choice than anything else.


snailboat has given an excellent answer. But I would like to emphasize that you should not do this in formal writing. It is very casual, used only in speech or informal writing, eg, creative writing or a letter to a friend, etc.

  • I would like to suggest you this answer does not provide something more significant than Snailboat's answer; so I recommend in future you add such information as comment to the best answer.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 19:28

As a non-native speaker, you should probably never try to do this. A native speaker who is very skilled with the language can get away with it sometimes, but the example that you give sounds quite awkward to me.

It probably works better in casual speech. The speaker leans closer, lowers his voice, waves his hands, and switches to narrating in the simple present. It can make the story much more dramatic. It is very hard to pull that off in print.

Summary: Don't do it yourself, but be prepared to see it from time to time.

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