Question from Randall in the USA:

In quoting a line from a book, is it correct to use the word “wrote” or “writes” as in;

  • In his book, Good English, Joe Smith writes, “English is good.”

or

  • In his book, Good English, Joe Smith wrote, “English is good.”?

Answer:

Hi Randall and thanks for your question.

You’re quite right to be a bit confused about this as you will have been taught that when an action, such as writing a book, is finished, we should use the Simple Past. And you would be quite correct if you wrote:

  • In his book, Good English, Joe Smith wrote, “English is good.”

The confusion exists because when we are quoting what a writer has written in a book, newspaper or magazine we can use more than one tense despite the fact that the writing is, of course, finished. We can say:

  • In his book, Good English, Joe Smith has written, “English is good.”
    (Present Perfect)
  • In his book, Good English, Joe Smith writes, “English is good.”
    (Simple Present)

All of these are acceptable and don’t really change the meaning or intention of the sentence. Perhaps using the Present Perfect or Simple Present gives the quote a greater sense of immediacy and of being current but it is a fairly fine distinction.

Maybe, Randall, it is enough to know that you would not be wrong if you used any of the above tenses.

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