It seems to me that both of the following sentences use Present Indefinite as well as Past Indefinite tense simultaneously.

  1. They hit him.

  2. They cut the rope.

closed as off-topic by user178049, user3169, Varun Nair, shin, kiamlaluno Aug 11 '17 at 9:13

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  • 2
    With these two verbs (and a few others) the 'past' and 'present' forms are identical. It is very unlikely that in any given passage the time reference will be ambiguous: it will be inferred from the surrounding context. – StoneyB Aug 10 '17 at 22:09
  • Please provide more context. @DavidWashington How do you know? – user178049 Aug 11 '17 at 1:14
  • @DavidWashington - They cut the rope, and then the puppy runs away! – J.R. Aug 11 '17 at 1:20

As I think you know, the sentences are ambiguous in their tense, as the past tense of "hit" is identical to the present tense. This isn't usually a problem. Other languages do fine with no concept of tense at all.

So you may as well ask is sheep singular or plural in "I played with the sheep", (the plural of sheep is identical to the singular). It is ambiguous. Humans can deal with a little ambiguity in our language.

In a context, the tense would probably become clear: "They hit him. Then they ran away" is clearly past tense. "Every evening they tie up a basket of rice over the river with rope. And every morning they cut the rope dropping the offering into the river, as an offering of thanks to god." Is present tense.

I would be surprised to find an example of where (1) the ambiguity is not resolved, (2) it matters to the understanding of a text and (3) the example arose in naturally.


These are both either present or past tense (depending on the context). English has many verbs that have the same present form as the past form. Here is a good site that lists some (or most) of these.

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