The years sure pass quickly.

It's a general statement, isn't it? Is this ok too: years sure pass quickly.?

  • It's not a general statement. By using "the years", the speaker is referring to the specific time period that they actually experienced (as opposed to time in general). Jan 18 at 14:57
  • @CanadianYankee It's a translation to English but it was a general statement originally at least. I wonder why there come 'pass' not 'passed' if a specific time is referred to.
    – Young
    Jan 18 at 15:48
  • The present tense is used if the years are still passing quickly in the speaker's perception. You'd use the past tense if you're referring to a time period that is over. Jan 18 at 15:50

One use of the direct article is for something that is well-known and unique. For example:

The stars shine in the night sky.

Here, "the stars" refers to the well-known stars that we all see overhead at night in the well-known sky.

Your example is not a general statement about literal years - it doesn't make sense to say that "years sure pass quickly" because a year is a precise measurement of time that can't speed up or slow down. If you're talking literal years in a general sense, it only makes sense to call them "quick" in relationship to some other time period:

Years pass more quickly than decades.

In that sentence, I don't use the definite article with "years" or with "decades" because that is a general statement about the actual time period of a year.

In your quote, the speaker is using "the years" as a metaphor for "the subjective experience of time passing." This is a unique experience that is well-known (we all experience the passage of time), and therefore takes the direct article. "The years" makes it clear that I'm talking about this metaphorical experience rather than about strict solar years of 365.25 days.

It is unclear without more context whether the speaker is describing their own personal experience or of people in general. You could imagine all either one:

  1. I can't believe I'm 50 years old! The years sure pass quickly. [ the speaker's personal experience ]
  2. Life might seem long, but the years sure pass quickly. [ people's experience in general ]

Finally, the present tense is being used because this is being stated as something that is always true: past, present, and future. This is just like the present tense used in, "the stars shine in the night sky."

You could also imagine cases where you'd want to use a past tense to refer to a specific experienced period of time rather than about time passing in general:

  1. I've been married for a decade, but it feels like we just fell in love. The years sure have passed quickly. [ present perfect to say the time began in the past and continues up to the present ]
  2. I barely remember any details from my time in university. Those years sure passed quickly. [ past tense to say that the entire time period was in the past ]

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