I'm a student wondering if my English teacher would accept a sentence as grammatically correct. I've read a lot of books, especially old classics, that give examples or instances in the present tense, such as this quote from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.

She doesn't use "an adult American Negro female may emerge," but rather uses it in the present tense? Sort of? Am I making sense here?

My sentence:

The mother who loses one son to Nazi gunfire and one to the white hoods of the Klan sees their deaths as one and the same – meaningless killings caused by a foreign people, fueled by cold hate

Is this sentence grammatically correct?

What is this type of tense called?

How can I improve the title to this question? :)

  • The enduring present tense. It's used to narrate events that are ongoing and likely to continue.
    – deadrat
    Sep 26, 2015 at 23:31

1 Answer 1


As Swan in Practical English Usage (p465) states:

The simple present is common in summaries of plays, stories, etc.

This use of the present is usually called the literary present. Here are two extracts from the literary present page on About.com:

Use the present tense when discussing a literary work, since the author of the work is communicating to the reader at the present time.


By saying that the literary present is an appropriate tense for discussions of literary works because such works and their characters are alive and still speaking to each reader, grammarians have gone beyond the confines of literal chronology to what is at least a casual if not a rigorous attempt at a more experiential description of the tense... .

And here is one from the University of Richmond's Writing Center:

When you quote directly from a text or allude to the events in a story (as in a brief plot summary), you should use "the literary present." We write about written works as if the events in them are happening now, even though the authors may be long dead.

So, your sentence is in the appropriate tense for a story summary - although you should consider enclosing "who loses one son to Nazi gunfire and one to the white hoods of the Klan" with commas since it appears to be a non-defining clause.

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