Below is an extract from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (chapter 24, final letters). At this moment, Walton is recalling in a letter to his sister his encounter with the monster, who is mourning the death of his creator, Frankenstein. (Here, I = Walton.)

"Your repentance," I said, "is now superfluous. If you had listened to the voice of conscience, and heeded the stings of remorse, before you had urged your diabolical vengeance to this extremity, Frankenstein would yet have lived.

"And do you dream?" said the damon; "do you think that I was then dead to agony and remorse?..."

Why does the daemon use the simple present tense here? Is Walton's dreaming not a past event? If it is not, why does the monster not use the progressive tense?

Thank you.


1 Answer 1


In this context, "dream" is being used in sense 2 of the verb as defined by Merriam-Webster. It's not referring to an actual dream Walton had in the past, but to thinking in a fantastical or delusional way in the present.

As for using the present tense, it's an old-fashioned construction. In many instances in which most modern speakers would opt for the present progressive to describe the behaviour of someone involved in a currently ongoing interaction, the simple present was previously employed. Some examples which spring to mind are "you forget yourself!" rather than "you're forgetting yourself!" or the famous line from Hamlet: "the lady doth protest too much" ("the lady protests too much" in the modern idiom) rather than "the lady is protesting too much".


Actually, in modern usage, "you're dreaming" is not an unusual phrase. One could say:

You're dreaming if you think I'm going to follow you!

Which means "you're delusional if you think I'm going to follow you".

EDIT (2):

I've realised that there's a modern set phrase which preserves this old grammatical structure: "But I digress." It's nearly always phrased this way rather than "But I'm digressing."

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