1

The title may be a bit confusing. See the below example:

The movie (was/is) so good.

The simplest guideline on deciding which tense to use, past tense or present tense, to describe an object comes down to whether the description was only true that that time or is true even to the present point of time.

But now we talking about literary work(movies,books,etc) of which quality tend to stay the same over time, which tense should we use?

  • If you say "The movie was so good" I would understand that it was and still good (but I am no native speaker to judge). Does "The movie's been good" qualify as a correct answer? Think of "The book has been a bestseller since it was first published" – learner Dec 13 '13 at 9:38
5

As far as I know, both (was/is) are possible.

If you say "the movie was good," it would mean that you pictured yourself watching the movie, and at that time you thought it was good. However, whether you are still thinking it is good is unclear, and many might interpret it as: you don't think it is good anymore.

On the other hand, if you say "the movie is good," it is clear that you currently think it is good. However, it is unclear whether you think that way from the start or not. (It's possible that you might hate it at first, and then developed your favor toward it later.)

Disclaimer: I'm a non-native speaker, so you might need second opinions from others.

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  • 4
    +1 native speaker, more or less agree. Usually though whether I use "was" or "is" here I still think the movie is good. I use "was" if I am thinking about the event of my seeing the movie vs. the movie itself (e.g. how was the movie? "It was good! And I had a good time at dinner too." or "It's really good! You should see it.") But I can see saying something like "the movie was good when it came out but I haven't seen it in 20 years so maybe the humor will seem less original or the special effects won't seem as impressive." Of course it makes no sense to use "is" in that sentence. – hunter Dec 13 '13 at 13:56
  • @hunter very well explained. When you talk about something outside literary objects, maybe like a friend you haven't seen in years, which tense do you use? For example if you just want to put forth a simple remark without any time element in it: John (is/was) so smart – user49119 Dec 14 '13 at 5:07
  • @user49119: "John is so smart". – Wayne Feb 13 '14 at 3:23
  • 1
    @hunter: I think you're correct. As you say, "was so good" places the emphasis on the experience of watching the movie -- though the movie itself would also be considered good. I think that Damkerng's statement "it is unclear whether you think that way from the start or not" is technically true but misleading if it implies that "is so good" signals the possibility of a changed opinion. It doesn't raise that question at all. – Wayne Feb 13 '14 at 3:43
  • Several months went by, now I have a chance to read this answer once again and I don't like what I wrote much. It's not a very good answer and I wish I had written something better than that. (I choose to leave it as is for historical reason.) My current opinion, like hunter's and Wayne's, is that though it's possible to read them as 'The movie was so good (but it's not anymore)' or 'The movie is so good (but once it was not)', it is really very, very unlikely. – Damkerng T. Sep 10 '14 at 7:04
-1

Was is used to describe past events,for instance:I was with my friends last night.but here in this case" The movie was good",past event which means your view and "The movie is good" this means it is still running in theaters and came to know that movie is a big hit.

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