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I am watching Breaking Bad on my computer, a somewhat "dated" TV series. Now I am at senson 4, the 10th episode, when Mr white is there talking to his son about his childhood memories of his father's death.

I suddenly noticed that he was using the present tense, like "there lying is my father", "he is all twisted up", "my mon, she puts me on her lap..so I can get a good look at him", "I can't even be sure that he knows who I am", etc.

My question is, is it grammatically normal or acceptable to use the present tense while telling a story (I mean, not only fairy tales, but also ture past events) in the past? Why doesn't Mr White use the past tense then? Isn't tense important in speaking daily English?

P.S. I then heard Mr White said in this very same story, "this rattling sound, like if you were shaking an empty spray-paint can——like there was nothing in him", right after using the present tense. How could that shift happen?

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    Generally, you have two choices when telling a story, using the present tense, or the past tense. Both are acceptable. – Damkerng T. Dec 4 '13 at 6:41
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    Shifting to the present tense in the middle of a narrative is a use of the so-called "historical present". It has the effect of making a story more vivid, more immediate. I think if you search the site for that term you'll be able to find some more detailed descriptions of it. – snailcar Dec 4 '13 at 6:53
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    @dennylv - Good point! I would like to add to what snailboat said that the past tense is usually preferred in novels and fairy tales. Maybe because it goes well with "Once upon a time, ..." – Damkerng T. Dec 4 '13 at 6:57
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    Learners are usually advised not to use the present tense in this fashion. You can do so nonetheless, but be careful to avoid it in formal English. And if you choose to use it anyway, I recommend you pay careful attention to when other people use it. Try to develop an intuitive sense of when it's appropriate and when it's not. I don't think anyone's come up with a precise set of rules for the historical present yet. – snailcar Dec 4 '13 at 7:15
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    Any rule would be different in oral and written language, but in any case present tense and past tense are not interchangeable "all the time". For basic rules in using the present tense in English you can see here. Using the present tense to talk about the past (or the future) is not special to English and is done in many languages, so I gather it is more than a pure grammatical thing - and of course there are those languages that don't mark tenses. – Laure Dec 4 '13 at 7:17
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As @snailboat said in comments:

Shifting to the present tense in the middle of a narrative is a use of the so-called "historical present". It has the effect of making a story more vivid, more immediate. I think if you search the site for that term you'll be able to find some more detailed descriptions of it.

Most stories are set in the past, and as such are properly spoken in past tense. However, speaking of the past in present tense can indicate that the speaker's recollection is so vivid that the speaker almost feels transported back to the moment of the events. Speaking in present tense is also common trick in storytelling to a create greater sense of immediacy for the listener, in hopes that the listener will imagine the events in present tense, as if the listener were a witness to the events as they are happening.

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When Narrating a story,we use simple past and sometimes present to,Its like elaborating the story and justifying it with your own words.

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