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In Italian, I could use the Simple Present for something happening in the future. For example, I could say l'anno prossimo parto per gli Stati Uniti ("the next year I leave for the USA".) This would mean that my plans to travel are set, or at least are mostly in place. Something might come up that would prevent me from visiting the USA (e.g. the person who was to give me hospitality has more urgent affairs), but that is something I don't know when writing the sentence. In any event, the sentence is not just expressing mere willingness to travel but also intent.

Can I use the Simple Present, in English, for a similar situation? If the answer is yes, can it be done with any verb? For example, can I use the following sentence, or is it wrong?

With the help of my cousin, I pass the exam.

I would take the sentence as meaning that I made arrangements with my cousin, and he is going to help me study for the exam.

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The Italian usage you describe (l'anno prossimo &c) is acceptably translatable with the simple present. What is being spoken of here is a future event which is regarded at the present as immutably fixed; the use is fairly common with schedules and timetables:

Is there a time I could see Prof. Sartorius today?
Let me see ... he's in class from 9 to 11, he's lunching with the Dean at noon, and there's a Faculty Senate meeting from 1 to 5; how about 11:30?

It is also used with commands and instructions of the sort that comprise a running narrative when (or as if) the hearer is present and watching a demonstration:

It's very simple. You attach the framistan to the sporgle ... decostinate the pantogriff, like this ... subindure the phlogiston stream ... and voilá! your problem is solved.

But the simple present is too strong to be used in your other example. Even though you believe that securing your cousin's assistance makes passing the exam quite as determinate as Prof. Sartorius' calendar of appointments, the statement and reflects not an impersonal fact but your own confidence and determination. You ordinarily say that you will or are going to pass the exam.

You use the simple present only when you can portray the event as "subsequent" rather than consequent and contingent: *Here's my plan for the coming week. On Monday I study with my cousin. On Tuesday I study with my cousin. On Wednesday I attend the Opera. On Thursday I study with my cousin. On Friday, with my cousin's help, I pass the exam." In effect, you transform the event into an episode in a present-tense narrative.

  • Could I use the Simple Present if by "with the help of my cousin" I mean he is going to do something more than helping me with preparing for the exam? Suppose there is a Board exams that expresses a vote for everybody who takes the exam; my cousin is part of it, and he is going to be sure I get a good vote. (OK, I was trying to make a plausible example, but I am not sure the terms I used are correct. :)) – kiamlaluno Jul 14 '13 at 19:01
  • @kiamlaluno Nice try, but no banana! :) Even "I bribed all the judges: I pass!" won't really be idiomatic; you'd say "I bribed all the judges: I've passed", because the perfect construction is appropriately stative. You can say "60% is passing. I got 90% on the first part and 95% on the second. It's a mathematical certainty: no matter what happens on the third part, I pass". – StoneyB Jul 14 '13 at 19:10
  • I'd quibble that instructions aren't really present tense. They're essentially a tense of their own, the imperative. We don't really have past vs present vs future imperative, I presume because all imperatives are inherently future. Okay, sometimes we confuse the issue by switching between an imperative and an ordinary present, like "Open the door, then you put the elephant in the closet, then close the door." Frankly I think adding "you" in the middle there is a grammar error, using a declarative when you really mean an imperative. But maybe we'd call it a special case. – Jay Jul 15 '13 at 16:24
  • I'd also quibble with your last paragraph. If someone said, "On Monday I study with my cousin; on Tuesday I attend the opera ..." I'd understand that as a description of a recurring action: every Monday I study, every Tuesday I go to the opera, etc. Ending with "On Friday I pass the exam" seems jarring to me, breaking a pattern AND using the present when you presumably mean the future. (Despite making two quibbles, I still up-voted your answer. :-) – Jay Jul 15 '13 at 16:27
  • @Jay These are good points: I have done what I often complain of in our questions, left out important pieces of context. I've rewritten to correct this. – StoneyB Jul 15 '13 at 16:52
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Short answer: No.

In general in English, you must use future tense to describe future events and past tense to describe past events. There is no "historical present" like in Latin, nor an "historical future" like I guess you are saying exists in Italian.

The proper phrasing would be, "With the help of my cousin, I will pass the exam." Or perhaps, "With the help of my cousin, I expect to pass the exam" or "... I will certainly pass the exam" or whatever.

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No, you need I will or I am going to. If you said I leave tomorrow, as an answer to when are you leaving, you have the idea of the future because of tomorrow, but present is not used for future as in Italian or Spanish.

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