8 julio, 2024

Historical present: concept, characteristics and examples

He historical present It 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 a long time ago. A simple example would be: «In 1820, Maria goes to Italy.»

As can be seen in the example in the previous paragraph, we are talking about something that happened 200 years ago, but the verb “ir” is used in the present (“María va…”). 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 Spanish, the historical present has the very notable purpose of giving life to what is narrated. When using this mode there is an immediate transfer in which you read that makes you feel that what you perceive happens in your «today».

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


Features of the historical present

Substitution of the past tense for a present tense

As indicated in the introduction, the historical present replaces the past conjugation with the present. If it is said: «In 1943, José traveled…», in the historical present it goes like this: «In 1943, José traveled…». Narratively speaking, this verb form relives the moment.

It has 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 takes place in the mind. Of course, with the difference that you don’t travel to the past, but rather bring the past to the present.

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 teacher say: «Columbus discovers America…», or «Einstein is the best physicist». Both sentences are expressed as if they happened today. It is assumed that Columbus is discovering America at this time or that Einstein is alive.

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

revive a past event

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

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

Although it is being narrated in the present, there should always be something in the narrative that indicates to the reader that what they are reading has already happened. 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, he just finished World War II.

Without the presence of a factor that indicates that one speaks of something past as if it were present, then one cannot speak of the historical present.

It is sequential and dependent

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

For example:

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

In the scene that arises there is a character that 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 occur.

When is the historical present used?

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

When an ephemeris is indicated

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

in autobiographies

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

When explaining a class

This allows students to relate more to what is being explained. Therefore, meaningful learning is more easily achieved.

When you are going to make a historical novel or short story

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 present historical

– 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.

– In 1969 what we do not believe could happen happens. Yes, man reaches the moon.

– How do I explain, I’m driving, and the very irresponsible person skips the light and crashes me. It’s been three days of that.

– What’s wrong with this cashier? -I told myself-. He’s charging me double!

– There is exactly one year left for Halley’s Comet to pass. Dear 1985, go quickly, please. I don’t want to miss that masterful event.

– And here I am, on the trails, with my gun loaded, waiting for this First World War to end soon so I can return to my family in Spain.

– Today, January 3, 2012, the users of the Lima metro reopen the service after 23 years of disuse.

– It is January 1, 1994, the new constitutional proposal of Alberto Fujimori for Peru has come into effect.

– Monteagudo celebrates the signing of the treaty between Jaime II and Sancho IV. It is a very special time for the kingdom.

– The Cuéllar community is celebrating. Pedro I of Castile marries Juana de Castro in a luxurious party.

– Mars Polar Lander is finally launched by USA just 3o years after they stepped foot on the moon. It is a historic moment.


Historical present. (2020). Spain: Wikipedia. Recovered from: es.wikipedia.org.
Historical present (2015). (N/A): Language Blog. Retrieved from: blog.lengua-e.com.
Definition and examples of historical present. (2016). (N/A): Grammars. Retrieved from: grammaticas.net.
Parra Carriel, G. (2012). Analysis of the historical present and its functions in narratives. Chile: University of Chile. Retrieved from: repositorio.uchile.cl.
Resolved doubt: historical present. (2017). Solecism. Peru: Current Castilian. Retrieved from: udep.edu.pe.

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