At the rate of one death every two minutes, diabetes ______ (claim) over 340,000 lives annually –just over half the death rate of cancer.

According to answer key, the correct one is claims:

  1. At the rate of one death every two minutes, diabetes claims over 340,000 lives annually –just over half the death rate of cancer.

However,"is claiming" sounds OK to me:

  1. At the rate of one death every two minutes, diabetes is claiming over 340,000 lives annually –just over half the death rate of cancer.

Can someone enlighten me whether use of present continuous tense in this sentence is grammatically accurate or not?

  • The tense style "is claiming" has popular use among English speakers on the Indian sub-continent, but might be considered unnecessarily verbose. – Weather Vane Aug 13 '19 at 17:31

This apparently depends on whether the situation is permanent or not, i.e. whether or not it is likely to go on in the foreseeable future. If it is a temporary situation, you use "is claiming", but if it is a permanent situation, you use "claims".

Unless you're writing about a likely cure or game-changing treatment for diabetes, then there is every reason to believe that diabetes will kill around the same number of people next year, so you'd use the present simple ("claims"). If you're writing about a game-changing therapy, you could use "is claiming", but then it becomes a question of degrees. If only 300,000 people died from diabetes next year, that's more-or-less the same number. If it was only 34,000 people next year, that's a 90% reduction, but people still died from diabetes.

In my work, I often have to read literature and write documents on treatments for disease (infectious diseases in the past, but currently oncology), and I more often see epidemiological data discussed using the adverb "currently" (as in "...diabetes currently claims...") to reflect that the number is a modern measurement, and not an average of deaths over the last hundred years, for example. It gets around implicitly prediction, and is clear that the number is recent.

The best answer to the question is "claims" because the situation is (relatively) permanent.

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The present simple is used because it is a scientific fact that so many people die from diabetes every year. It is presented as a fact, not something happening temporarily. This has probably been going on for years.

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  • 1
    Yes. It's therefore possible to use the present continuous there. – userr2684291 Aug 13 '19 at 20:17

Although both of the other answers are close to the mark, the reason has more to do with the nature of the verb "claim". In this case "claim" is synonymous with "kill", specifically the mortal act itself and not the slow prelude.

Which is to say we aren't talking about the eventual demise of these people but their actual death. It's different from saying something like

Diabetes is slowly claiming his life

which suggests some future fatality.

Because this is a set of singular events, rather than ongoing events, it makes more sense to suggest regular discreet occurrences with the simple present.

Diabetes unnecessary claims many thousands of lives each year.

If however you were talking about the potential deaths from diabetes -- an ongoing process -- then something like the earlier sentence is fine:

Diabetes is slowly claiming the lives of nearly half as many people as cancer.

(Edit) In response to the downvotes (which I'm going to assume are trying to tell me I'm off-base):

Consider, as comparison, the verb "cost", an ongoing process, not a singular event. With this verb it's not abnormal to see the continuous tense used, for example

How Diabetes Is Costing Canadians Billions Of Dollars Per Year

The simple present is also fine. Unlike "claim", which the author chooses is simply a question of style, rather than meaning.

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  • When speaking of a person's disease that ultimately ends in their death, is it possible that "is claiming" is correct because they can't die twice? In other words, non-chronic disease ends in clearance or death, so it's always temporary. Also, I would say that the headline from personalhealthnews[dot]ca is incorrect. – mRotten Aug 18 '19 at 18:44
  • @mRotten I would say rather that "claiming the lives of ..." has two potential meanings. Either it suggests a wasting disease, or it suggests a mortal event. That's the distinction between the simple present and the present continuous. It's a really interesting case because it's so subtle. But apparently others disagree with me – Andrew Aug 18 '19 at 22:31

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