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I know that it is both acceptable between the use of is and was to express 'something is done in the past'. For example, both sentences are fine.

This play is written by her.

This play was written by her.

However, I wonder if it is still possible to use present tense even if I use an adverb that expresses 'long ago'. For example, is the following sentence also correct?

This play is written by her long ago.

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    I don't agree that "This play is written by her" is fine. I can't imagine in what context somebody might say that.
    – TonyK
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 11:29

3 Answers 3

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No, you cannot. But why?

"This play is written by her" has two possible meanings:

(1) "She is currently writing this (unfinished) play", or
(2) "She is the author of this (finished) play."

Although meaning (2) uses the verb "write", the function is to describe the play in terms of its author, not relate the action of writing the play. This is an idiomatic use.

When you add a finished past time, like "long ago", the sentence can only describe (1) the action of writing because it's clearly not describing who the author of the play is.

So, "This play is written by her long ago" is bad grammar because it uses a present tense to talk about an action in the finished past.

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  • So, how should this sentence be reformed to sound good? "This show had been written bey her long ago"?
    – user141755
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 5:17
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    @user48 The simplest (which is usually the best style) is, "This show was written by her long ago."
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 5:45
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    Or better, "She wrote the play long ago"
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 16:56
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No. Because we are using the verb "to write" (in the form "is written") in 2 different ways, in the two kinds of use:

This play is written by her.

With the words "is written" in this example, you are referencing the authorship of the play. The identity of its creator. Never mind when it was physically written, it is today, in this moment, a play, and is written by its author.

This play is written by her long ago.

In this use, you are referencing the act of writing of the play, and that act is not taking place now, it took place in the past.

Because one of those is a statement about the present condition, status or attributes of an entity, and the other is a statement about a specific activity that took place in the past, you cannot meaningfully combine these.

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You want the "was written" form. "Write" is a verb. The action has finished. You need the past tense.

If you want something that is present tense you can trying something like so.
This play is one of her writings.
She is the author of this play.

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  • Your answer is correct, but not your reasoning. The OP has correctly pointed out that, "The play is written by her" is good grammar, and that this might allow the possibility of using the present tense even when including the past time when the action was done. The OP's question is only about whether it's still acceptable to use a present tense when a finished past time is added to the sentence.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 4:03
  • No. "Is written" would be something that is continuing, such as a newspaper column.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 4:08
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    Present simple passive is correct both to describe something that is ongoing, like a newspaper column, and in sentences like "The play is written by her." It has at least two functions. There's a lot of discussion about it at the link at the top of the question.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 4:20

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