He is the first man to arrive here.

I'm confused what this sentence means.

I think it could mean either of the options below according to context, like

  1. He is the first man who is going to arrive here.
  2. He is the first man who has just arrived here.

It means exactly what it says. If there are one or more people who have come from somewhere else, then it describes the first man to have arrived.

It doesn't necessarily mean that he has just arrived.

If the event were being commentated on, the sentence could be spoken when the man appears. Many hours later, especially if no other man has arrived, the sentence could be spoken again—although, in that case, it would probably be more common (although not essential) to say he is still the first man to arrive here.

In another scenario, consider a fantasy story involving a quest that has always been completed by women:

Although many women have done so, he is the first man to complete the quest.

He could have completed the quest many years ago, but you could still use the present tense while he is alive. (If he were to die, then the past tense would need to be used.)

Just because it happened at some point in the past doesn't mean that you have to use the past tense when you are talking about a still-existing quality of a person. If something is still true, or if it's a general truth, the present tense can be used in addition to the past tense.

  • Will not it mean option 1 in any situations? – Man_From_India May 19 '19 at 11:25
  • @Man_From_India The only possible scenario where I can see that would be something like a group of people going over a plan (such as in a strategy session for a robbery). They point at a map and one of them says, "Nancy cuts the power here. Then Rick is the first [man] to arrive here." In that very specific circumstance, the present tense and future tense could be mixed. But, normally, it would be considered a mistake. Instead, it would be he will be the first man to arrive here. – Jason Bassford May 19 '19 at 14:00
  • what about this sentence? "He is the last man to arrive". Consider a situation where all the guests have arrived, only one person is yet to come. In that situation, won't that sentence mean that he is yet to arrive? – Man_From_India May 19 '19 at 15:49
  • @Man_From_India No, that's fine. It's the same construction as he is the first man to complete the quest. It means that he not only was the last man to arrive—but, being alive, can claim that description about himself, since it is still a true statement. – Jason Bassford May 19 '19 at 15:56
  • I am sorry friend, I didn't understand you clearly. Can you please say in in other way? – Man_From_India May 19 '19 at 16:14

You are correct. It can mean both things depending on the context. The context will tell you if it is describing something that is scheduled for the future, or something that has happened in the past.

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