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Historic Present

In linguistics and rhetoric, the historical present or historic present (also called dramatic present or narrative present) refers to the employment of the present tense when narrating past events.

Introduction - Historic present

The historic present is really just the ordinary present tense, except that it used to discuss events that occurred in the past. That is: in terms of grammatical form, there is no difference at all between the historic present and the normal present. The only relevant difference is context: the present tense is about the actual present, whereas the historic present is about the past. 

The main purpose of the historic present is to convey a sense of immediacy, or to talk about events as if they were just happening right now. 

How to include histoc present in a sentence

Here is an example for you of the correct use of the historic present. 

"I can remember it like it was just yesterday: I say to the woman that I want to marry her, and she says yes." 

In this sentence, the speaker is using the historic present in order to talk about a past event as if it were present, thereby heightening the level of emotional impact. 

Now, here is an example of the historic present being used in an incorrect way

"I was thinking about the conversation I would have tomorrow, in which I say to my boss that I would like a raise." 

This is an incorrect use of the historic present because it is talking about a future, and not a past, event in the present tense. 

Here are a couple guidelines that can set your mind at ease about whether you're using the historic present in a proper way. 

  1. Again: the historic present is grammatically exactly the same as the simple present. There is no difference whatsoever when it comes to the actual way that form verbs in the historic present. The historic present is only its own tense because you are using the present tense to talk about not the present, but rather the past. 
  2. The main purpose of using the historic present is to heighten emotional impact. It makes the reader feel like the given event did not just happen in the past, but is actually happening in the present. Naturally, this produces an enhanced sense of immediacy and makes the listener feel as though he is experiencing the event with the speaker himself. 

Further reading and additional usage

One of the notable things about the historic present is that it can produce a somewhat jarring effect, as the reader realizes that the past is being transported into the present (a very useful rhetorical device). This is especially the case because often, a writer establishes a kind of frame narrative in the past tense, and then switches to the historic present in a somewhat abrupt way. Again, this creates a sense of emotional intensity, achieved in part by the fact that the reader is momentarily put off balance. 

Conceptually, the historic present could perhaps be understood as the opposite of the narrative past. The latter is when a whole story is told in the past tense, even though it may be happening right now. This is the convention, for example, through which the writer indicates that a character "said" something, rather than that he "says" something. In contrast, the historic present brings past events into the present; the historic present does not distance a present thing, but rather makes present a distant thing. 

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