In the sentence below:

Artifacts represent how people live in the past


Artifacts represent how people lived in the past

When the "people" in the sentence are already dead, which verb tense is the correct to use?

  • 3
    Of course "lived" Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 12:24
  • But some speakers don't think of the past chronologically, odd as that may sound. For them it's a place in the museum, or an idea, a different world. You might even be able to go there some day.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 13:32
  • Thx, I just kinda got confused because of "in the past" word at the end.
    – John Arvin
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 14:10
  • lived is logical and is what most speakers would say.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 14:41

2 Answers 2


Artifacts represent how people lived in the past

In the example using the past tense, lived, is always correct. The most important determination here is the adverb phrase in the past, not whether the hypothetical artifact users are in fact still alive or not.

Even without the adverb establishing past tense, a native English speaker might find the present tense sentence odd, because one definition of artifact refers to an object of historical significance.


'Lived' must be used in most situations'. 'Live' is only possible if what preceding this sentence firmly established the time frame as in the past. For example, after a museum guide had said, "This exhibit covers area A between the Xth and Yth centuries." In prose it is possible when using a technique called "flashbacks". That requires the use of past perfect tenses to reset the time frame to an earlier time. Having established that, the writer may then continue on with past simple tenses. This type of thing is quite commonly done by authors of fiction writing stories in past tenses when the narrative needs to jump back to describe events which happened at an earlier time. But I stress, without a clear context, this sentence must use 'lived'.

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