After that the king says to Molly: 'Molly, you are a clever girl, but if you would do better yet, and steal the giant's ring that he wears on his finger, I will give you my youngest son for yourself.' Molly said she would try. So back she goes to the giant's house, and hides herself below the bed. The giant wasn't long ere he came home, and, after he had eaten a great big supper, he went to his bed, and shortly was snoring loud. Molly crept out and reached over the bed, and got hold of the giant's hand, and she pulled and she pulled until she got off the ring

This is from English fairy tales. I read some English fairy tales and they are usually written in past tense. However there is some sentences written in present tense in this story like "So back she goes to the giant's house and hides herself below the bed". Why does present and past tense mix in this fairly tale?

  • Be very careful if you're using texts like this to improve your command of contemporary "conversational" English. The king's if you would do better yet is an archiac / poetic construction which you'd probably never hear used in earnest today, but the tense and verb choices of so back she goes ... and hides are extremely colloquial, so they're in a completely different "register". It's all done deliberately in the context of a children's fairy story, because it makes the whole thing "quaintly jumbled up" in terms of language use, but it's hardly a "teaching aid"". Dec 15, 2016 at 18:34
  • Warming to my theme, I'll also point out that the giant wasn't long ere he came home is a curious mixture of archaic / poetic ere (= before) and the contemporary idiomatic usage He wasn't long (= He arrived soon). And the "overdone" repetition of and in the final sentence would nearly always be considered poor style (except it's okay here precisely because the text is a quaint mixture of poetic and childlike). But it is a "charming" text - which should be good at holding the reader's attention, and that's always useful when you need to learn things. Dec 15, 2016 at 19:18

1 Answer 1


Fairy tales are often written in more informal and dramatic language, since they are meant to be read aloud to children.

In particular, mixing or shifting of tenses is a dramatic technique to draw the reader/listener into the action. See this Wikipedia article on "historical present".

  • Thank you for the answer. Wikipedia says "It is also used in fiction, for "hot news" (as in headlines), and in everyday conversation". Is it used in present everyday conversation? Dec 15, 2016 at 18:00
  • 1
    Yes, although not everyone likes it. "Bob told me that he was going to fire me if I did it again. So I go back to my desk and I start writing my resignation letter."
    – John Feltz
    Dec 15, 2016 at 18:03

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