Thursday, 25 December 2014

Using Present Indefinite Tense through Dialogues

This page shows different ways of using the Present Indefinite through dialogues from English literature.

The Present Indefinite mainly expresses permanent or recurrent actions in the present.


a) We find permanent actions or states with durative verbs. They generally indicate continuous uninterrupted or repeated processes representing permanent features and relationships. They give a general characteristic to the person or thing denoted by the subject. Time indications are not obligatory in this case.

Illustrative Examples:

1. Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher stay at school after classes and talk about their likes and dislikes.

Tom: Do you love rats?
Becky: No, I hate them!
Tom: Well, I do, too — live ones. But I mean dead ones, to swing round your head with a string.
Becky: No, I don't care for rats much, anyway. What I like is chewing-gum!..
Tom: Do you? I've got some. I'll let you chew it awhile, but you must give it back to me.
(M. Twain. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

2. Mr. Harris is waiting for his train in the station café in Territet in Switzerland; the train is an hour late.

Mr Harris: Do you speak other languages besides English?
The waitress: Oh, yes, sir, I speak German and French and the dialects.
Mr Harris: Which do you like best?
The waitress: They are all very much the same, sir. I can’t say I like one better than another.
(E. Hemingway. Homage to Switzerland)

3. Miss Pemberton, the Headmaster’s niece, meets Gerald Bracher, a boy of 14, in the street. They talk about Mr Percy, Gerald’s schoolmaster.

Miss Pemberton: So you’re still with Mr Percy.
Gerald Bracher: Yes, I’m still with Mr Percy.
Miss Pemberton: He teaches well, doesn’t he?
Gerald Bracher: Yes, he does. He’s very subtle.
Miss Pemberton: Subtle. So you think the masculine character capable of subtlety?
Gerald Bracher: Yes. Of course, it’s quite rare.
Miss Pemberton: Quite rare.
(R. Fuller. The Ruined Boys)

b) We find recurrent actions either with terminative or durative verbs. In case with durative verbs adverbial modifiers of frequency such as often, seldom, sometimes, etc. make the action recurrent. In many cases the difference in the lexical character of the verb appears blurred. Then we are dealing with marginal cases – a permanent characteristic is given through recurrent action.

Illustrative Examples:

4. Lord Caversham and Lady Chiltern, society people, talk about Lord Goring, Lord Caversham’s son.

Lord Caversham: Good evening, Mabel Chiltern! Has my good-for-nothing young son been here? ...
Mabel Chiltern: Why do you call Lord Goring good-for-nothing?
Lord Caversham: Because he leads such an idle life.
Mabel Chiltern: … Why, he rides in the Row at ten o’clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out every night of the season. You don’t call that leading an idle life, do you?
(O. Wilde. An Ideal Husband)

5. Vincent Van Gogh talks to his brother Theo, an art dealer, about the Impressionists.

Vincent Van Gogh: Do they work in light or dark colours?
Theo: Oh, light! They despise dark colours. …
Vincent Van Gogh: … Are any of them selling?
Theo: Durand-Ruel (art dealers in Paris) sells an ocassional Manet. That’s about all.
Vincent Van Gogh: Then how do they live?
Theo: Lord only knows. On their wits, mostly. Rousseau gives violin lessons to children; Gauguin borrows from his former stock exchange friends; Seraut is supported by his mother; Cezanne by his father. I can’t imagine  where the others get their money.
(I. Stone. Lust for Life)

Note: The Present Indefinite is used to denote a recurrent action or permanent process in a general statement, a universal truth, in the wording of rules, laws, in proverbs and sayings.

Illustrative Examples:

6. The boy who usually helps Santiago in the sea, comes to the old man’s shack and brings him supper.

The boy: You ought to go to bed now so that you will be fresh in the morning. …
Santiago: Good night then. I will wake you in the morning.
The boy: You’re my alarm clock.
Santiago: Age is my alarm clock. Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?
The boy: I don’t know. All I know is that young boys sleep late and hard.
Santiago: I can remember it.
(E. Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea)

7. The nineteen members of the mice family gaze up at the small red balloon bobbing to and fro in the sky above their heads.

Mr Peck: Can’t tell what it is, Ma. Blessed if I can make it out at all. Keeps coming and going like … (Addressing Uncle Ponty) … What do you reckon, Ponty? You’ve got good eyesight. …
Uncle Ponty:  Perhaps something’s gone wrong with the sun. …
Uncle Washington: … Sun rises in the east – sets in the west. You can’t change nature. Besides, it isn’t bright enough.
Mr Peck: He’s right, you know. Anyway, the sun doesn’t move about like that thing.
(M. Bond. Here Comes Thursday)


The Present Indefinite expresses an action going on at the moment of speaking. This occurs in two different cases:

a) with verbs which do not admit of the Continuous form, i.e. stative verbs.

Illustrative Examples:

8. Coming into the room Lilian sees her brother playing the piano.

Lilian: What’s that awful row?
Wilfred: That’s the waltz from “Gipsy Love”.
Lilian: It sounds a mess.
Wilfred: That’s because I can’t play it properly.
Lilian: That’s obvious.
(J. B. Priestly. Eden End)

9. Wendy, a little girl, asks Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, no end of questions about Fairies. Suddenly they hear a tinkle of bells in the room.

Wendy: Peter, you don’t mean to tell me that there is a fairy in this room!
Peter: She was there just now. You don’t hear her, do you?
Wendy: The only sound I hear is like a tinkle of bells.
Peter: Well, that’s Tink, that’s the fairy language. I think I hear her too.
(J. Barrie. Peter Pan)

b) with dynamic verbs to express an action going on at the moment of speaking. In this case it is not the action itself that attracts the speaker’s attention. The speaker just names the action as such. The attending circumstances of the action (the time, the place, the manner, etc.) become relevant. This use is also typical of sentences with inanimate subject.

Illustrative Examples:

10. Vincent Van Gogh is drawing a tree in Etten; a local peasant is watching him.

Vincent Van Gogh: You find funny that I draw a tree? (The peasant roars.)
The peasant: Yes, yes, it is so funny. You must be fou (fou [Fr.] – a fool)!
Vincent Van Gogh: Would I be fou if I planted a tree?
The peasant: Oh, no, certainly not. …
Vincent Van Gogh: Then I can plant a tree, tend it, pick it, and cut it down, but if I draw one I am fou. Is that right?
The peasant: Yes, you must be fou to sit there like that. All the village says so.
(I. Stone. Lust for Life)

11. Mrs Catherine Henry is to be operated on. She suffers greatly. From time to time a mask is put over her face. She breathes in the gas and that stops her pain. Her husband is in the room with her.

Catherine: Now it will be all over in an hour. I’m almost done, darling. I’m going all to pieces. Please give me that. It doesn’t work. Oh, it doesn’t work!
Mr Henry: Breathe deeply.
Catherine: I am. Oh, it doesn’t work any more. It doesn’t work! … Oh, please, darling, please make it stop. There it comes. … Can’t they give me something? …
Mr Henry: I’ll make it work. I’ll turn it all the way.
(E. Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms)


The Present Indefinite expresses a future action:

a) in subordinate clauses of time, condition and concession.

Illustrative Example:

12. Two artists talk about good and bad painting.

Weissenbruch: I hear you’re a Van Gogh. Do you paint as successfully as your uncles sell pictures?
Vincent Van Gogh: No. I don’t do anything successfully.
Weissenbruch: And a damn good thing for you. Every artist ought to starve until he’s sixty. Then perhaps he would turn out a few good pieces of canvas.
Vincent Van Gogh: Tosh! You’re not much over forty, and you’re doing good work.
Weissenbruch: If you think my painting is any good, you better give up and become a concierge. Why do you think I sell it to the fool public? Because it’s junk! If it was any good, I’d keep it for myself. No, my boy, I’m only practicing now. When I’m sixty I shall really begin painting. Everything I do after that I shall keep by my side; when I die I’ll have it buried with me. No artist ever lets go of anything he thinks is good, Van Gogh. He only sells his garbage to the public.
(I. Stone. Lust for Life)

b) The Present indefinite may be used to indicate a future action which is certain to take place according to a timetable, program, schedule, command or arrangement worked out for a person officially. This use of the Present Indefinite is not interchangeable with the Present Continuous.
Illustrative Example:

13. Dinny’s brother Hubert and his wife Jean are in the Sudan. The family is looking forward to their arrival in London.

Sir Lawrence: When does Hubert arrive?
Dinny: Next week. They’re flying from Italy. Jean flies a lot, you know.
Sir Lawrence: This confounded officialism seems to absorb all our kith and kin. My two daughters, Celia in China, Flora in India; your brother Hubert in the Soudan; … Jerry Corven’s been given a post in Ceylon.
(J. Galsworthy. End of the Chapter)

c) The use of the Present Indefinite with reference to the immediate future is structurally dependent in some special questions. In such questions one asks after the will of the person addressed.

Illustrative Examples:

14. The children are playing in a garage; Bellie, a small girl, is going to be an actress; using the garage as a stage she is actong Madame de la Tour.

Bellie: … This is my room, you see. I’m lying here on a tiger skin, rich. … Now, when I lie down here, somebody’s going to knock at the door. … You go out, Paddy, and after a minute knock at the door.
Paddy: What do I say when I come in?
Bellie: Are you the famous Madame Antoinette de la Tour?
Paddy: Madame w h o ?
Bellie: Antoinette.
Paddy: Antoinette.
Bellie: De la Tour.
Paddy: De la Tour… Madame Antoinette de la Tour. …
Bellie: … All right now, let’s start.
(W. Saroyan. The Inventor and the Actress)

15. Ben, an elderly pilot out of work, has to take a dangerous job of shooting a film about sharks; he takes his son Davy with him, a boy of ten; while working with his camera under water Ben gets attacked by sharks.

Davy: What shall I do? (the boy is crying) Look what happened to you!
Ben: Davy. How are my legs?
Davy: It’s not your legs. It’s your arms. They’re all cut up, they’re horrible.
Ben: I know that. What about my legs?
Davy: They’re covered in blood and they’re cut up too.
Ben: Badly?
Davy: Yes, but not like your arms. What do I do?
Ben: Davy. Listen to me. Get my shirt and tear it up and wrap up my right arm.
(J. Aldridge. The Last Inch)