I have this sentence

Figure 2 shows a screenshot of a dialogue for creating an anchor. In this dialogue, the anchor ( has been / is / was ?) specified by a text pattern.

I don't want to say how something is performed, but to say what you see there.

Present tense implies to me that I am saying the anchor is always specified by a a text pattern, while I mean in the case you see in the figure as you see the anchor is (or has been) specified with a text pattern. (in Persian we use Past perfect for such cases)

Does the present tense convey my meaning? Then how I could use this tense to say a fact or instruction.

Then how do you differentiate the second sentence below:

  • As you see the summer is hot (the summer of 1995 in the picture was hot)
  • As you see the summer is hot (summer is always hot)

In general, when we describe an image or a figure which both the speaker and listener are aware of it, which tense should be used?

  • In your initial, quoted sentence, any choice will work because they are all true. The author chose to present it that way, and it currently is that way. In your summer example, you need to use what correctly describes it. If the picture is of a hot summer in 1995, you can't make a statement that it shows summer, in general, is hot, because it doesn't. You would need to say something like, "As the picture shows, the summer of 1995 was hot."
    – fixer1234
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 19:03

4 Answers 4


You present an interesting dilemma. Use of present tense should be used in reference to a Figure, but not necessarily to the image in that Figure. In your example, referring to the Figure of a dialogue, which I presume is and always has been as one sees it, use of present tense to describe the image would be accurate. However, as I understand your query, whether use of present tense is flexible and thus allowing one possibly to proceed into some contrary or alternate instruction/theory, such need might be better served by using the past perfect tense. Of course, use of present tense would not prevent process in that direction since the image is a fact being presented, regardless of inclusion as evidentiary or instructive.


When we explain a figure, a play, a movie or a book etc., We use the simple present tense (in some cases the progressive present tense too). The logic is that it is an experience that is felt every time that one sees or reads it, and hence we use the simple present tense. If you are explaining what you experienced, then depending of the context, it could be present perfect or simple past.

In the second example of these two sentences:

As you see the summer is hot (the summer of 1995 in the picture was hot)

As you see the summer is hot (summer is always hot)

When you show a picture about summer in general, then use simple present tense, as it is a fact. When you talk about a particular summer, even though you are showing a picture, the summer cannot be experienced again and hence you use the past tense. Now, this is interesting. If you speak about that particular time, then it is referred to in the past tense. If you refer to what is in the picture and what activity the people in the picture are involved in, then you use the simple present tense, add that can be experienced by any viewer at any time. In this case, you will introduce the picture 'Here is a picture of the summer of 1995. It was a hot summer. The people in the picture are....'



Present tense matches 'Figure 2 shows'

A past example could have been..."Before it was destroyed, Figure 2 showed a dialogue for creating an anchor. In that dialogue, the anchor was specified by a text pattern.

Has been is valid too.


It should be the present tense. You are stating a fact, so use present tense.

  • I just talk about what is there. For example there should be a difference in these two sentence. "As you see the fly can't fly" vs. "As you see the cheetah can't fly", the first is about a case, the second is a fact
    – Ahmad
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 11:03

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