We often use the present simple and present continuous in stories and jokes in informal spoken English to create the impression that events are happening now. This can make them more direct and exciting and hold people’s attention (M. Hewings, "Advanced Grammar in Use" p. 4, 2013)

I have read and even posted an almost identical question related to this problem, but in this question, I want to ask as to how to implement this idea. First and foremost, I think I should give an example from the very same book I quoted above.

I was sitting in the park, reading a newspaper, when all of a sudden this dog jumps at me.

If this were the first time I saw that sentence before I read Hewing's book, I'd say, in my opinion as a learner, this sentence would be incorrect since they use different tenses at the same moment. I implied "at the same moment" because the story teller used "all of a sudden" that made me think the first and the second event weren't separated by a long interval.

Corresponding to the title, suppose I want even more to hold people’s attention, would this sentence sound ungrammatical if I write this way?

I am sitting in the park, reading a newspaper, when all of a sudden this dog jumps at me.

Do the listeners (of the story teller) would understand that the teller is talking about something that did happen in the past? Or would they rather be comfortable if the tense is using the past tense instead of the present tense?

  • 1
    You are asking a question about style so almost anything anyone says is a matter of opinion. The “historical present” is an accepted literary device. It is also a launching pad for very odd styles such as Damon Runyon’s, which perhaps marks a boundary that none should pass and few even approach. But part of what made Runyon an interesting writer was his consistency in his idiosyncratic uses of tenses. My advice is be consistent, but that is opinion. Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 4:40
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    Both examples are fine, but I cannot emphasize enough how very informal this style of storytelling is. It's almost only used for sharing personal anecdotes in speech
    – gotube
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 4:42
  • If I may add so that people don't think it's off-topic, personally I more ask about "how to use it". As gotube has pointed me out the "informal" and swmcdonnell's answer, I think I have figured out the answer.
    – user516076
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 4:51

1 Answer 1


Your rewrite sounds even better than the example from the book:

I am sitting in the park, reading a newspaper, when all of a sudden this dog jumps at me.

Provided sufficient context is provided, listeners understand that the story happened in the past, and that you're narrating it as though it were happening right now. It can lead to constructs that look totally wrong, but are perfectly acceptable because you're telling a story. For example:

Hey guys, check this out. Yesterday, I am sitting in the park, when all of a sudden this dog jumps at me.

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