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...and it's a save!
He heads in the ball - but it's a save!

A question from Sabir Hasan in Saudi Arabia:

I have always been facing a confusion between past and present in some special cases. While going through the headlines of newspapers, I usually come across past events described in present tense. For example if Mr. X passed away, the newspapers describes as: "X passes away".

I can't understand that how the incident, which has already taken place, is described in present tense?
Present for the past


Ask about English

Gareth Rees:

Well Sabir, thank you for your question and I do understand your confusion. It must seem strange that a past event is described with a present tense. However, this is because in this case, the present tense doesn't relate to the objective time of the event; the newspaper is using the language for a different effect. They are not trying to communicate the time of the event. Instead, they want to make a past event feel more current - feel more present.

The newspaper wants to create a sense of immediacy to their headline. Why does the newspaper want this? Well, a newspaper tries to sell fresh news so by using a present tense, when I read the headline, I feel that this story is very fresh or recent.

This use of the present tense to make something feel more immediate or present is also seen in the commentary of sequences of events.

For example, at a football match, we could hear on the radio:
"And Rooney passes to Crouch...Crouch flicks it up in the air - and Rooney heads and scores!"

Well, we might not hear it that often if we're an England fan, but in that example, the commentator is describing the action using the present tense to make it feel more immediate.

The commentator doesn't say: "Rooney passed the ball to Crouch, Crouch flicked the ball in the air and Rooney headed the ball into the net."

And another place where we use this is when we tell jokes.

For example:
A chicken goes into a café and asks for a drink of lemonade.
The café owner asks: "Lemonade? What does a chicken want with lemonade?"
The chicken turns around, stands on his head and says ?

Well Sabir, I'm not going to finish the joke for you. You'll have to tune into the BBC and see if you get to hear the punchline.

That's all for now... the presenter, puts down his pencil, stands up and leaves the room.

Gareth Rees has been an English language teacher and teacher trainer for over 10 years. He is currently a lecturer at London Metropolitan University and his first course book for English Language learners is due to be published in the near future.


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