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Home / Blog / How To Understand Literary Present Tense

How To Understand Literary Present Tense


When you first started your way of study, then at elementary school, teachers introduced you to past tense, present tense, future tense. Based on these three basic tenses, you have compiled various documents.

Now you are a college or university student and face such a concept as “literary present tense,” which shocked you a little. Surely you do not understand this term and how to define it. Well, let’s take everything in order.

This type of tense is not new, you didn’t learn it at school, but you may have heard it. Literary present tense has meaning; that is, you need to write about art or literature in the present. Pretty simple. Let’s explore this term further.

The Classic Definition of the Literary Present Tense

You shouldn’t be intimidated by the term “literary present tense” because it has the same meaning as the present tense. The “literary” part means that you need to use the present tense when you write about a movie, picture, poem. Also, “literary” indicates that we are talking about works of art.

But it is worth noting that when discussing literature, this is more related to discussions about literature, which most often arises in lessons; for example, you are asked to write a small literary analysis essay. Then you will write discussions on the topic, and you need to use the literary present tense.

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Why Use the Present Tense?

When you are asked to write about a piece of literature or art, you only need to use the perpetual present. Why? Because you are writing about a work of art, and for the text to organically read, you need to write in such a tone that the object or hero is here and now.

Let’s look at this with an example. You are reading the book “Shining” as it existed a hundred years ago, and its plot does not change at any time. This means that you describe it in the present tense since there will be no future; the book will be the same.

This type of tense is different from those you will use when writing scientific documents about history, mathematics, chemistry, etc. Since all the discoveries of sciences took place in the past, it is necessary to write accordingly in the past tense because laws and findings cannot be changed.

The same applies to scientific experiments. If you have conducted research and are now going to describe it, then it is already finished; it was done earlier. Therefore, your document should be written in the past tense.

If you have a task to describe some scientist’s experiment and express an opinion on the topic, you also write in the past tense because the experiment has already been done, and you cannot change the data. Important! If you are writing an assignment for a science lesson, you will have to use citation in APA styles; accordingly, do not forget about the past tense, no matter what stage the expert describes, because the text should create in a single tone.

Are There Examples of Literary Present Tense?

Of course, we have prepared several examples to see how to write literary present tense at a theoretical and practical level. You can familiarize yourself with the examples below, but do not forget that copying is prohibited; this is just for your inspiration. The task that the teacher asks you should be written only by you.

Use Literary Present Tense When Describing a Work of Art

Whether you need to give an overview of the entire work or write a hero’s characterization, always use the literary present tense. Now look at a few examples of which should be written in this tense:

  • The ghost in the book “Hamlet” reveals the hiding of Hamlet’s thoughts;
  • Willy Wonka creates exciting characters for the plot;
  • Picasso’s paintings are artwork that mixes different themes and adds a storytelling element;
  • Juliet decided to commit suicide because Romeo died and sees no reason to live on.

When Describing the Author and Artist, Use the Past Tense

The examples that we have given below require a past tense since you need to write historical events in which different artistic works were created. You don’t need to write the production itself, which means you don’t need to use the literary present tense. Let’s consider some examples:

  • After Stephen King finished creating “Shining,” he immediately published it in 1977;
  • The Mona Lisa was created by renowned artist Leonardo Da Vinci;

Circumstances to Use the Past and Present Tense

Surely the teachers asked you not to use multiple tenses at the same time. But the rules of writing texts allow the use of several tenses, if necessary, for the author. For example, this concerns when it is necessary to simultaneously write about a historical event and literary prose or art.

Therefore, asking the question – when mixing historical facts and events of art literature, can you use the past and present tense? The answer is, of course, yes. We can now look at a few examples:

  • It may seem strange, but Shakespeare’s plays, which were written many years ago, are the most popular tragedies because such stories are often repeated in real life;
  • Edvard Munch created “The Scream” in 1893, but most art lovers want to explore the work every day.

Since the sentences are structured so that the information about the author is located at the very beginning, it is worth using the past tense. We are then talking about a work of art, literature, so you need to use the present tense. As you can see, it is not difficult to combine; it is essential to know the sequence. Use the tips, and you will succeed!

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