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I hope I don't make a silly question, but I'm so confused since I have learnt that we can use the present tense to talk about the past action (something like an anecdote and the others), that means according to what I've learnt, it's legal to use the present tense in the past.

Supposing I want to emphasise an event that happens in the past and I'm using "the Past Tense", and I want to use the possession verb (to have), should it also be written in the past as well? It's unlike the subject "used to have something" and they don't have it anymore, but it's more like the subject still has it in the present.

E.g.

There was a boy who lived in a small village that ___ Collins' Syndrome. He is now 18 and he hasn't recovered yet.

When I'm in doubt and I have to write something like the sentence above, I will substitute to have, the verb I'm intending to use, with the preposition "with" to avoid using it. Anyway, now my question is should I write has or had?

The fact that he (the subject in the story) still has the disease, but when the sentence is also used in the past, do I have to match the tense or just leave it in the present form i.e. has?

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  • Very weird example, which makes it hard to answer. If you provided just the first sentence alone, you'd use "had," as you're obviously telling a story from the past. But no one would ever follow that sentence with the second one.
    – cruthers
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:43
  • @cruthers It still took me almost an hour to make that example to make sure the reader (all of you) understands my question. I made 2 part of tenses to tell that the first sentence illustrate the usage in the past, and the second sentence tells that something that the subject has still exists in the present. Without introducing those two sentences I'm afraid my question would be misunderstood.
    – user516076
    Jul 28, 2022 at 1:46
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    I think I understand what you're getting at. "I was on vacation last week, and I met a guy who had the biggest feet I've ever seen." Presumably the guy still has the biggest feet I've ever seen, but you still use the past tense.
    – cruthers
    Jul 28, 2022 at 2:25
  • @cruthers Thank you, I would also appreciate if you have anything as a suggestion to edit the question so it would look more understandable.
    – user516076
    Jul 28, 2022 at 2:33

1 Answer 1

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If you want to say that the boy had Collins' Syndrome in the past, then you must use the past tense:

There was a boy who lived in a small village who1 had Collins' Syndrome.

We can instead use the present tense either to mean that the boy has Collins' Syndrome now (and perhaps didn't have it earlier) or to indicate what is sometimes called the "timeless present". The timeless present doesn't really indicate action in the past; it indicates action that is generally true regardless of time. The boy presumably has had, does have, and will have Collins' Syndrome, so the timeless present is possible:

There was a boy who lived in a small village who has Collins' Syndrome.

I actually don't think that the timeless present works very well here (I would prefer the past tense), but others may think that it's OK.


1I changed the pronoun to "who"; using "that" might suggest that the village had the syndrome!

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  • Thank you so much! I appreciate all the detail answer as what I expected. Anyway, if you don't mind, one last question plz. When you mentioned the timeless present and mix the present has with the sentence in the past, is it colloquial or grammatical? I mean, can I write that sentence, e.g. on a formal English exam or should I avoid it and choose the first version sentence instead? Thanks!
    – user516076
    Jul 28, 2022 at 2:31
  • @user516076 There's no rule that says that all tenses in a sentence have to be the same, so I think that you could justify the present tense ("has") here. However, as I mentioned, I think that the past works better for that verb than the present. Jul 28, 2022 at 18:27

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