Their manager came off and told them the interview is not sanctionned and to stop immediatly. I remember watching Sting, who had been posing coolly during the interview with a straw dangling from his mouth suddenly get up ,kick the chair he had been sitting in and leave quickly, disgusted enough to throw his straw on the ground for emphasis

These 3 verbs are present but the scene took place about 40 years ago :so is it an example of what is called historical present . Why, in this case only these 3 verbs are present: is it because these 3 actions were done very fast unlike posing and sitting which were longer.Is historical present only used for quick actions Would have been wrong to write these 3 verbs past simple

2 Answers 2


This has nothing to do with the historical present. That's about using the present tense overall despite describing events in the past. A whole sentence would be in the historical present, or a distinct fragment such as direct speech. If a sentence in the historical present is in the present perfect, it would be in the past perfect if the sentence were in the simple past or present perfect. It's talking about previous events as if they were happening right now, and may involve a mix of progressive, simple and perfect aspects, and may involve past and future tenses as well as perfect ones. It is simply denoted by the time being 'wrong'. For more info, see Fred2's answer.

The reason that they appear to be in the present tense is the use of the verbs remember and watching. Here remember is catenative and taking a gerund phrase as argument. That gerund phrase, based on watching is the real reason that you end up with the "present tense "- you often watch things happening, so you have verb phrases here as well, but those verbs do not decline. Despite the fact they have apparent explicit subjects - in this case Sting - they are bare infinitives. If they were actually in the present tense, they should be third person singular and take the -s form.

There is no present tense; there are verb phrases as complements (or adverbials, depending on how you interpret it) to watching and are thus non-finite. They could be gerund-participles instead, and the rules change if they were prepositional phrases (such as "watching Sting as he got up, kicked the chair etc.), but here they are not finite verbs and do not decline at all. They only appear to be "present" because of the fact that the infinitive and most forms of the present are identical in form.


SamBC's answer is excellent, I just thought I would add an example of what the historical present does look like so you can spot it in future.

In 1066 William the Conqueror travels to England with his army of Normans and defeats King Harold at Hastings.

Winston Churchill works every day in his bunker office in London's Whitehall, all through the German Blitz.

Historical present sentences tend to be quite straightforward. They are very clearly written in the standard present tense. So, they should be easy to spot. What makes them 'historical' is the context, which will always be to things clearly in the past.

Bonus: Two pieces of advice about the historical present:

  1. Never use the historical present.
  2. Really. Never use the historical present.

Professional historians in my experience loathe the historical present, and you will rarely find it in works of history other than 'popular' histories. There is never any particularly good reason why using one of the past or perfect tenses isn't appropriate. Where you do find it is in journalism, TV history shows, and undergraduate essays. There is an argument that the historical present gives "immediacy" to writing when talking of long-past events. I'd argue there are better ways to create that "immediacy" if it is necessary.

Ok - I know being prescriptive with grammar is unfashionable. But if you do use the historical present, I think it's good advice to ask yourself if you really need it.

  • 1
    Using the historical present is fine in two cases - informal narratives, and timelines or similar. It's the usual way of telling stories informally in some dialects. "So, I walk into the pub, right, and who should I see but Phil. Now, I know he's been bad-mouthing me, so I go up to him and I say, 'here, Phil, what've you been saying stuff about me for?'" For formal writing that's body-text, rather than a label on a diagram or timeline or similar, just don't use it, though.
    – SamBC
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:11
  • I think that's a good rule of thumb for sure.
    – fred2
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .