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How time flies! We still wanted to do many other interesting things. But it was time to say goodbye.

I can't figure out whether to use flies or flew here. Is it talking about general facts that the author thinks are true?

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  • When have you ever heard someone say "how time flew"?
    – John Douma
    Sep 3, 2023 at 3:33
  • It was strange how time flew by when you had nothing to remember it by. ---From an article of NYTimes
    – Jones
    Sep 3, 2023 at 4:53
  • In this case, it's a ''standard'' exclamation so you should just use ''how time flies''. I think it's the same in most languages that have Latin influence. For example, you say ''El tiempo vuela!'' in Spanish and you wouldn't say ''el tiempo voló'' unless you were specifically talking about a sequence of events in the past. Sep 3, 2023 at 11:16

3 Answers 3

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People often write The time flew by when describing a past experience such as an enjoyable holiday. However, you have written it as an exclamation, so the present tense is appropriate. "Time flies" is a general comment on how quickly time seems to pass.

Mari-Lou has pointed out that "How time flew" can also be used as an exclamation. However, the present tense version is the 'classic' one, being derived from the Latin Tempus fugit

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  • 1
    How time flew!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 2, 2023 at 9:53
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    …how I felt, how time flew,… Both tenses are acceptable in my opinion, but the present simple has the edge.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 2, 2023 at 10:01
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    "Dear me. How time flies!"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 2, 2023 at 10:01
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    @Mari-LouA Both tenses are grammatical but "time flies" is a set phrase, so you'd be monkeying around with that. This won't win be a contender for the next Booker Prize: "The memory of his relationship with her belonged to a past he had totally erased. Now he needed to focus on the future and even more on revenge". Sep 2, 2023 at 12:01
  • That makes sense. Also, I wonder if you tell me why flew is used in the following sentence. It seems to be talking about a experience in general. It was strange how time flew by when you had nothing to remember it by.
    – Jones
    Sep 3, 2023 at 5:04
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"How time flies" is a common exclamation - meaning 'doesn't time go quickly?'.

You would use the present tense, "How time flies", when referring to time in general ('doesn't time go quickly these days?'). The past tense, "How time flew", refers specifically to that occasion ('it felt like the day was over in no time'). However, as other commentators have said, it would be far more common to use the present "How time flies" in your example, as this is a common idiom.

As an aside, "Time flies when you're having fun" is a variation on this - either used literally (e.g. at the end of a fun day out), or ironically (e.g. after a long tedious journey!)

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When referring to a particular period or experience, I would use the appropriate tense with the time:

When we were at that festival, how the time flew [by]!

How the time has flown this past week!

When we went on holiday when I was little, how the time would fly!

Once you get there, the time's gonna fly!

(It's possible to leave out the in these, but that feels less natural to me. I would quite likely add by to these: "how the time flew by".)

But as a general, timeless expression (and by far the most common form) is with the so-called "present simple" (i.e. timeless) tense, and no article (and no "by"):

How time flies when you're enjoying yourself!

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