Which of the two sentences would look more natural in this short text:

Dostoyevsky is a famous Russian writer. He has written Crime and Punishment.


Dostoyevsky is a famous Russian writer. He wrote Crime and Punishment.

There's no specific time expression in sentence 2, and "Crime and Punishment" is a widely-read novel, so we can say that the event "relates to the present" in some way. Still, could the use of Present Perfect be erroneous or infelicitous here, and why?

  • 2
    D wrote C&P. PP doesn't work because D is no longer living and writing.
    – TimR
    Jul 11, 2015 at 13:06
  • @TRomano - Euclid is also no longer living and solving geometric problems, but.. Jul 11, 2015 at 13:10
  • 3
    @CopperKettle: another consideration is the fact that the present perfect is somewhat 'open-ended" - it allows for the possibility of writing more, in this case.
    – CocoPop
    Jul 11, 2015 at 14:32
  • 1
    @NathanTuggy - thank you for the link. Still there's a slight difference: the Chinese nation still exists and still invents while Dostoyevsky can no longer write. Jul 11, 2015 at 18:58
  • 2
    @CopperKettle: I suspect the underlying reason is the same, though, in that the Chinese that invented (or did not invent) the printer are certainly not the same ones of these days. Jul 11, 2015 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


Unless the meaning involves an ongoing connection with the present, as in the St Vincent Millay poem cited in the comment, we use the past tense when referring to the works of those no longer living.

Coppola has directed a number of famous films, including The Godfather trilogy.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.

If a living person has ceased doing what they did, for whatever reason, age, infirmity, change of career, we can use the past:

The boxer, Cassius Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali, fought in match-ups which were widely televised.

or the present perfect

....who changed his name to Muhammad Ali, has fought in match-ups which were widely televised.

P.S. Courtesy requires that we write:

The boxer, Muhammad Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay, has fought...


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