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Have you ever noticed that sometimes, people tell stories using the present tense, even though the events happened in the past? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, when present tense is used instead of the past to tell a vivid narrative, it’s called historic present tense. You might also see this used in magazine or news articles and informal speech.
Today, we’ll look at how historic present tense is used in a story told by former U.S. President Barack Obama. You might notice that using this tense to tell a story strengthens the story, and makes it feel like you’re there with the storyteller. I think this is what Obama wanted when he told the following story.
First, read Obama’s speech and change the bold verbs from the past tenses to present tenses to use historic present tense. Then, check your answers as you watch the inspirational video.
When I ran for the presidency ’08, I flew to South Carolina, alarm went off, and I felt terrible. I was exhausted–think I was coming down with a cold. I opened up the curtains. It was pouring down rain outside-pouring down rain! Horrible day. I‘d got the newspaper outside my door and there was a bad story about me in the New York Times. I got dressed, shaved, walked out. My umbrella blew open. That ever happen to you? And I got soaked! Soaked! I was just soaked. I got in the car. I said, “Alright, how long is it gonna take to Greenwood?” An hour and a half! So we were driving, and we were driving, and we were driving. Didn’t seem like we were going anywhere. Sheets of rain were pouring down. Finally, I got out, and I was sloshing around in the rain, and my socks were wet. And I walked in, and there were like 15-20 people there. And, I will tell you, they didn’t look any happier to see me than I did to see them. And so I went around the room and I said, “How do you do? What do you do?” But they were not really…feeling it right then. Suddenly, I heard this voice from the back just shout, “Fired up!” And everybody in the room said, “Fired up!” And then I heard the voice say, “Ready to go!” And everybody in the room said, “Ready to go!” And I didn’t know what was going on. I thought these people were crazy. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here. And then I looked in the back of the room. And there was this middle-aged woman. She’d got a big church hat. And she’d got, I think, a gold tooth. Turns out, she holds a position in the local NAACP office, and also-I’m not kidding you-is a private detective. This is a true story. She’s like a private eye. Although, it’s hard to think that you wouldn’t see her coming. She’s very colorful. And she is known, wherever she goes, by saying this chant, “Fired up! Ready to go!” And every meeting she goes to, she does this thing. But the interesting thing is, after a while, I was starting to get kind of fired up. I was starting to feel like I was ready to go. And all those negative thoughts, all those bad memories started kind of drifting away.
We would love to hear your stories! Use historic present tense to tell us something that happened to you recently in the comments section below. Or, better yet, schedule a class with LOI to tell your story to a native speaker!