Language and Linguistics

Historical present concept characteristics and examples

Historical present

The historical present is a linguistic resource that allows the writer to talk about something that happened in the past as if it were happening right now. The objective of this “mode” is to give an air of immediacy or actuality to an event that happened some time ago. A simple example would be: “In 1820, Maria goes to Italy.”

As can be seen in the example in the previous paragraph, it talks about something that happened 200 years ago, but the verb “ir” (“María goes…”) is used in the present. So, what generates this “now” effect when using the historical present is that it shows us the events as if they happened at the moment we read.

Contrary to other forms of the verbal present in Castilian, the historical present has the very notable purpose of vivifying what is narrated. When you use this mode there is an immediate transfer in which you read that makes you feel that what you perceive happens in your “today”.

The following are the characteristics of this resource, when it should be used, and a series of useful examples.

Characteristics of the historical present

1-Substitution of the past tense for a present one

As indicated in the introduction , the historical present replaces the past conjugation with the present. If it says: “In 1943, José traveled …”, in the historical present it does like this: “In 1943, José traveled …”. Narratively speaking, this verb form relives the moment.

2-Has a mental impact on the reader

When reading a publication that applies the historical present, the reader experiences a temporary mental process. Why is this said? Simple: because something that happened in a remote time is living in “today”.

It could be seen as a time travel that occurs in the mind. Of course, with the difference that you do not travel to the past, but you bring the past to the present.

3-Its frequent use occurs in academic contexts

The most common use of this verb form is when teaching classes. It is normal to hear the professor say: “Columbus discovers America …”, or “Einstein is the best physicist.” Both phrases are expressed as if they happened today. It is assumed that Columbus is discovering America at the moment or that Einstein is alive.

This verb form also occurs continuously when reading some historical text or the press. For the most part, if we read the ephemeris we can see that they are written in the present tense. For example: In 1515, Pedro arrives in Spain.

4-Vivify a past event

This is part of the most remarkable thing about this verb form. When someone reads something in the historical present, it brings what happened to life. And yes, it is as if it happens in the now.

5-The presence of an element that indicates that it was something that has already happened

Although it is being narrated in the present tense, there should always be something in the narrative that indicates to the reader that what they are reading has already passed. This can be accomplished with dates, such as: “In 1976, Jesus is going to …”. It can also occur with historical events, such as: “He drives his car, World War II just ended.

Without the presence of a factor that indicates that something past is spoken of as if it were present, then it is not possible to speak of the historical present.

6-It is sequential and dependent

This feature is complemented by the previous one. This is because no narrative in the historical present can be separated from some reality, characters, or things. It requires alternate events, elements or beings that place it in a given space and give it reason.

For example: Historical present concept characteristics

José is in Malaga, he talks to María, it is 1986, and winter makes both of them warm.

In the scene that arises, there is a character who gives José a reason for existence (and vice versa). In addition, there is a date that locates and a climatic factor that causes them to be conditioned to the circumstances. Without any of this, the historical present cannot exist.

When is the historical present used?

It is recommended to use the historical present in the following situations:

7-When an ephemeris is indicated

This gives greater relevance to the historical moment that is narrated.

8-In autobiographies

It gives more intensity to the author’s narration, as the reader gets into the story more intensely.

9-When explaining a class

This allows students to relate more to what is being explained. Hence, meaningful learning is more easily accomplished.

10-When a novel or historical short story is to be made

As in the previous recommendations, this allows the narrator‘s message to reach the reader more effectively. There is the so-called effect: “time travel”.

Examples of historical present

  1. Upon reaching the Iberian Peninsula, the Arabs seek to impose their religious beliefs. It is the 8th century AD. C., and Christianity is the reigning religion.
  2.  In 1969, what we don’t think could happen happens. Yes, man reaches the moon.
  3. How do I explain, I’m driving, and the very irresponsible skips the light and crashes me. It’s been three days of that.
  4. “What’s wrong with this cashier?” -I told myself-. He’s charging me double!
  5. There is an exact year until Halley’s Comet passes. Dear 1985, come quickly, please. I do not want to miss that masterful event.
  6. And here I am, on the trails, with my weapon loaded, hoping that this First World War will pass soon to return to my family in Spain.
  7. Today, January 3, 2012, users of the Lima subway re-launch the service after 23 years of disuse.
  8. It is January 1, 1994, the new constitutional proposal of Alberto Fujimori for Peru has come into effect.
  9.  Monteagudo celebrates the signing of the treaty between Jaime II and Sancho IV. It is a very special time for the kingdom.
  10. The Cuéllar community is celebrating. Pedro I of Castilla marries Juana de Castro at a luxurious party.
  11. Mars Polar Lander is finally launched by the US just 3 years after they stepped on the moon. It is a historic moment.

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