Can we use simple present and past tense to tell routine everyday action?

They are kept under surveillance.

Meaning they are kept under surveillance by their parents every day;


It means they are just kept under surveillance for a day?


Just reporting


In reported speech if I say

They were kept under surveillance

Has the same meaning as above but for a past situation, i.e. they were kept under surveillance by parents every day. Is that correct?

  • Regarding your question regarding reported speech, you might add an actual example to your question so is is easier to respond to..
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:53

2 Answers 2



One of the main functions of the simple present is indeed to show a habit (a routine everyday action) or something that is always true.

a) I make my own coffee (routine/habit) b) I like oranges (always true)

The example "They are kept under surveillance" shows that this is a constant or habitual state.

If you wanted to show that the surveillance occurred only for a day, you would indicate that fact using either the exact time-frame and, if it is in the present time, the present continuous tense: "They are being kept under surveillance today/tomorrow/for a week"

Reported speech requires a speaker, so your example of "They were kept under surveillance" can not qualify. You could say:

"She said that they were kept under surveillance"

However, again, you would have to specify the exact time of the surveillance.


surveillance would be considered a continuing action over some period of time. So I would not use simple present tense. The length of time around the present does not matter. So:

They are being kept under surveillance.

When in the past, such continuing action would be thought to have ended, without additional context. So you can say:

They were kept under surveillance.

I can't see where reported speech makes a difference.

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