Sunday, October 24, 1999
C. Customary (Habitual or General) Present
The customary present is used to signal either an action that regularly occurs or an ongoing state. 20 The action is usually iterative, or repeated, but not without interruption. This usage is quite common.
The difference between the customary (proper) and the iterative present is mild. Generally, however, it can be said that the customary present is broader in its idea of the “present” time and describes an event that occurs regularly. The customary present is an iterative present with the temporal ends “kicked out.”
There are two types of customary present, repeated action and ongoing state. The stative present is more pronounced in its temporal restrictions than the customary present or the gnomic present.
2. Key to Identification: customarily, habitually, continually
The two types of customary present are lexically determined: One is repeated action (habitual present [customarily, habitually]), while the other is ongoing state (stative present [continually]).
20 So Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 206, n. 12: “The general or customary present need not be iterative. If the lexical character of the verb is stative or denotes a process which can be extended at length, the sense is that of unbroken continuation . . . .” Some grammarians prefer to distinguish the stative present from the customary. We have lumped them together for convenience’ sake.
Saturday, October 23, 1999
The present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact. “It does not say that something is happening, but that something does happen"
The action or state continues without time limits. The verb is used “in proverbial statements or general maxims about what occurs at all times.” This usage is common.
2. Semantics and Semantic Situations
The gnomic present is distinct from the customary present in that the customary present refers to a regularly recurring action while the gnomic present refers to a general, timeless fact. It is distinct from the stative present (a subcategory of the customary) in that the stative present involves a temporal restriction while the gnomic present is generally atemporal.
There are two predominant semantic situations in which the gnomic present occurs.24 The first includes instances that depict deity or nature as the subject of the action. Statements such as “the wind blows” or “God loves” fit this category. Such gnomic presents are true all the time. There is a second kind of gnomic, slightly different in definition: the use of the present in generic statements to describe something that is true any time (rather than a universal statement that is true all the time). This kind of gnomic present is more common. Thus, pragmatically, it is helpful to note a particular grammatical intrusion: A gnomic verb typically takes a generic subject or object. Most generics will be subjects (but note the first example below). Further, the present participle, especially in such formulaic expression as PAS hO + present participle and the like, routinely belong here.
3. Key to Identification
One key is to add as a general, timeless fact. But this does not cover all situations. Another rule of thumb is to translate the verb as does rather than is doing. Further, one should especially note whether the subject is generic (a common key is the indefinite pronoun TIS, substantival participle [especially with PAS], or a substantival adjective).
B. Progressive Present (a.k.a. Descriptive Present)
The present tense may be used to describe a scene in progress, especially in narrative literature. It represents a somewhat broader time frame than the instantaneous present, though it is still narrow when compared to a customary or gnomic present. The difference between this and the iterative (and customary) present is that the latter involves a repeated action, while the progressive present normally involves continuous action.13 The progressive present is common,14 both in the indicative and oblique moods.
14 The descriptive present, in many grammars, is presented as different from the progressive present. The difference is that the descriptive involves a narrower sequential band than does the progressive present. We have put both together for convenience’ sake.
B. Progressive Present (a.k.a. Descriptive Present) ...2. Key to Identification: at this present time, right now ... Acts 2:8 15
15 It seems best to describe this as a descriptive present since the time element is so collapsed (as opposed to an extension-from-the-past present). Fanning, for example, would not take it as extending from the past, for in his view this usage “always includes an adverbial phrase or other time-indication with the present verb to signal the past-time meaning” (Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 217). Brooks-Winbery, however, dispute this (Syntax, 77).