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For this sentence here "

The Oruanui eruption of the Taupo Volcano was the world's largest known eruption in the past 70,000 years"

is the use of "was" implying that it is no longer the largest known eruption?

  • By the way, the names of volcanos are used with the zero article, the exception being the Kilauea Volcano, – Victor B. Apr 8 '18 at 18:27
  • @Rompey That doesn't seem to be true... see here. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 18:29
  • @linguisticturn Then I should add it to the list of the exceptions to geographical names articles I've been making for years. As examples: the newspaper Today, the Great Salt Lake, and dozens and dozens of others) – Victor B. Apr 8 '18 at 18:39
  • @linguisticturn Once you've provided a link. let me reciprocate. – Victor B. Apr 8 '18 at 18:41
  • @Rompey 'Sorry, your page could not be found.' – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 18:43
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No, this use of was is not necessarily implying that it is no longer the largest known eruption.

For example, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake remains the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan, and yet the following sentences appear in published literature:

It w͟a͟s͟ the most powerful earthquake ever known to have hit Japan. (source)
It w͟a͟s͟ the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan. (source, source)

The present tense can also be used, but it is used less frequently in this context:

It i͟s͟ the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan. (source)

Having said that, it is possible to rewrite your sentence so as to remove all possible ambiguity, and yet somehow still respect the intuition that the grammar should somehow respect the fact it happened in the past:

The Oruanui eruption of the Taupo volcano r͟e͟m͟a͟i͟n͟s͟ the world's largest known eruption in the past 70,000 years.

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There is a special problem of past time-reference in English. They name it sometimes as the problem of choosing when you should use the Present Perfect tense and when the Past Indefinite tense. The discussions have been going on for a long time in the scientific and scientific-popular grammar literature similar to this site. Typically, such discussions are realized under the theme name 'Differences between AmE and BrE when using the Present Perfect tense.'In this case, the use of the Past Indefinite tense is fully justified by the formal English grammar, in both dialects, with the formal signs of how Adjunct 'in the past 70,000 years' looks like. The adjunct is a prepositional phrase with a meaning and syntactic function of an adverb of time.

The preposition 'in' has many senses. The conceptual meaning of the preposition in the English usage is that 'expressing the relation of a thing to that which surrounds, encloses, includes or conditions it with respect of place, time or circumstances.' So, because of that a meaning of such words with multiple lexical sense is dependable on the syntactic meaning of a sentence, we have the meaning of the preposition as 'during a period of time’.

In the same manner of logical, semantic and syntactic conclusions, it can be proved that the adjective 'past' in this sentence has a syntactic meaning of 'gone by in time.' This syntactic meaning of the adjective 'past' has been chosen by means of using the Past Indefinite tense for the Predicative Verb 'was' in the sentence.

Thus, this somewhat supposedly unusual use of grammar in this sentence reflects the main idea in it: it was a long time ago, there is no relation to the present, and, something similar is not expected in the near future. Despite the fact that the time period has not been defined explicitly with grammar, wether the time period of 70,000 years has finished or not. Essentially, similar resoning is behind the semantics of the sentence 'I already ate', which is well-known in the literature on usage that reflects socio-linguistics issues in AmE.

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