I'm really confused about present and past tense usage, I'll provide some examples.

  1. He was the first one to complete the challenge

Why not is? Because right now, he's still in fact the first man to complete the challenge?

  1. I forget his name

Why not forgot...? Because in the past you forgot his name...It's like when we just completed something, we say 'we did it' not 'we do it'

  • 3
    These are just conventional usages, without any logical explanation. I suppose (1) looks back to the moment when the challenge was completed for the first time. For (2), we could also say "I have forgotten his name," but the present tense means "I don't have it readily accessible in my memory at this moment". Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 9:10
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    Because it implies that every time this is mentioned, "i forget this name".
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 16:19
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    Hey Kate, if we say ‘I forget his name’ because I don’t remember his name at this moment, why can we say ‘I drive car’ when I’m driving..?
    – Jason
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 23:28
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    @Jason: the simple answer is, Because we don't. But these are not parallel. For verbs of perception or inner state (see, hear, feel, think, imagine, remember, forget) the simple past is the normal form, and we use the continuous rarely, to emphasise that currency of something. Hour question was about present vs past, not present vs continuous.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 22:23

1 Answer 1


I would say that in a sentence like this, the verb tense indicates the man’s presence.

“He is the first person to beat the challenge” means he beat the challenge, and now he’s still around. He might be right in the room at the time, or they might still have regular communication with him.

“He was the first person to beat the challenge” means he beat the challenge, but he’s gone now. Maybe he moved away, stopped communicating, or died.

The question of whether someone is still around or not is vague and depends on your interpretation of the situation. Since the distinction is so small, these phrases are sometimes used interchangeably, but it is better to use the appropriate tense for the man’s presence.

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    Ah, that makes sense. So let’s say, Donald Trump isn’t the president any more, we would say ‘he was the 45th present’ even though it’s a general fact that he is still the 45th president?
    – Jason
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 23:26
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    Yes, you would use “was.”
    – SegNerd
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 19:05
  • 1
    While it could be used that way, that distinction is not normally implied by "he was the fist to X" Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 8:16

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