Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • [How do you use the present to talk about the past?]

  • So yesterday morning, I'm running a bit late, I grab a piece of toast and head out to my car, but my car won't start. So I have to take the bus.

  • Now, let me pause me right there.

  • Did you notice anything unusual grammatically about what she, I, just said? When did all this happen?

  • So yesterday morning. I'm running a bit late ...

  • Yesterday morning. So it's past, right?

  • OK, so listen again. How many past verb forms can you hear?

  • So yesterday morning, I'm running a bit late, I grab a piece of toast and head out to my car, but my car won't start. So I have to take the bus.

  • Thank you, Joanne. Right, let's look at the score.

  • Now would you look at that: zero, nil, nothing, zilch, nought.

  • I think we can agree that this did happen in the past.

  • So how is it that Joanne didn't use any past forms? Did I, she make a mistake?

  • Well, surprisingly, no.

  • Let me explain how it's possible to use the present to talk about the past.

  • We call it the historical present, or it may also be called the dramatic present, or narrative present.

  • We use it a lot when we tell jokes or anecdotes, for example, because using present forms to describe past actions makes the story seem more immediate, more engaging, more personal.

  • We also see present forms being used for the past a lot in news headlines, whether read by newsreaders, or written in print, or online.

  • And historians might use it to talk about the ancient past in a way to make history more appealing.

  • In 1066 William the Conqueror invades and thousands of new words enter the English language.

  • Now, in all of these cases, we could use past forms.

  • Let's get Joanne back to tell us the story againonly this time using past forms.

  • So yesterday morning I was running a bit late, I grabbed a piece of toast and headed out to my car, but it wouldn't start and I had to take the bus.

  • Let's have a look at the past form scoreboard, and we've got a grand total of five.

  • Exactly the same events, but using past forms.

  • Umm, it's not quite as involving, not quite as engaging, but it is still correct.

  • [Is 'will' the future and 'would' the past?]

  • Now, I want to go back to the car.

  • My car won't start.

  • Notice here that we have what might appear to be a future form being used in the present to talk about something that happened in the past.

  • The first thing to mention here is that 'will' is not really a future form.

  • It's a modal auxiliary, and we do use it to talk about an intention to do something in the future, say, for example, opening a window.

  • It's hot. I'll open the window.

  • The act of opening the window might be in the future, but the intention to open it is in the present, at the moment of speaking.

  • It might seem weird, but 'will' actually refers to present time, not future time.

  • And believe it or not, it's the same for would and wouldn't.

  • In the same way that will and won't are not about future time, would and wouldn't aren't about past time.

  • It's a bit more tricky to get your head around that point, so I would prefer to talk about that another time.

  • Oh, look! I just use 'would' to talk about something that hasn't happened yet.

  • Hmm. An example that shows it can't be the past.

  • So I'm going to have to knock off a point from our past-o-meter.

  • Before I leave you, one more thing to make you think.

  • As we've seen, 'will' is used for an intention, a plan, an idea to do something. So when we say:

  • My car won't start!

  • Are we suggesting the car doesn't have the will to start, it has chosen not to start just to wind us up, just to make us angry?

  • It may be we choose to give the human quality of stubbornness to an inanimate object as a way to express our frustration.

  • Well, my car certainly is inanimate at the moment, and that is very frustrating.

[How do you use the present to talk about the past?]

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

A2 UK present joanne intention window engaging score

Using the Historical Present to Improve YOUR Jokes and Stories! | English Grammar Lesson

  • 2684 113
    林宜悉 posted on 2021/10/15
Video vocabulary