if someone asks me "Who is the founder of apple?" Should I reply in present tense or past tense?Like, "The founder of the apple is/was Steve jobs": 'Was' or 'is', which one should I use? As I know the person is not alive, I think I should use past tense. But the questioner asks the question in present tense, then what form should I use? I've also seen in exams that questions often comes in present tense in this kind of context despite knowing that The person about whom information is being sought is not alive? Can someone tell me the reason? If I ask someone 'who was the founder of Apple', will I be wrong?

1 Answer 1


If the person is no longer alive, then it's common to use the past tense, even if the question is phrased in the present tense.

The founder of Apple was Steve Jobs, who passed away in 2011.

Otherwise, it's really up to you. If the person is no longer associated with the company, then again, it's common to use the past tense even if they're still alive.

Steve Wozniak was Apple's other founder, and actually built the first Apple computer, but he has not been directly involved with the company for many years.

However, this only matters if you use the "to be" verb. You can avoid all that with different wording:

Both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple computer in the late 1970s.

On an exam it's possible they don't want to give an clues to the answer by using the past tense, even if they know the person is no longer alive. If the person is likely to be dead, then the question will normally be phrased in the past tense. Example:

Who was the ruler of England at the time of the American Revolution?

  • If I ask someone(a student) 'who was the founder of apple', will it be wrong?
    – user250189
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 11:19
  • I think it is enough to say the "founding" was in the past, regardless of anything after that, so use past tense.
    – user3169
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:09
  • @user250189 Yes, it's fine. Or you can just ask "Who founded Apple?" and avoid the issue.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 20:06
  • @user3169 I would say, "Bill Gates is the founder of Microsoft," but as I say it's more personal preference than grammar.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 20:08

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