Thursday, October 7, 2010

Was He Dead?

I've noticed a peculiar trend regarding the English language. Specifically, this has to do with tense and dead people. In English, when referring to someone who's dead, and describing that person with "to be" or "to have" or similar, one uses the past tense (except, of course, when using the word "dead"). So, for example, "he was tall" or "she had blue eyes" would be used, rather than "he is tall" or "she has blue eyes".
So, if someone's dead, then use the past tense, and, by the contrapositive, if the speaker is using the present tense, then the subject is not dead.
The problem is that a lot of people seem to assume that the converse and inverse are also true. That is, they assume that, if the speaker is using the past tense, then the subject is dead, and if the subject is alive, then the tense will always be present.
I happen to find it a bit annoying when this happens. I use the past tense when I'm referring to something in the past, but sometimes I'll be talking about something in the past and it happens to involve a human and a listener will assume that I'm talking about someone who's dead. Why? I don't know.
Does this ever happen to you?

No comments: