I was reading this 小説 and i noticed that the author uses the past and the present tense of the verbs simultaneously (sorry for the length, but it's for the purpose examples).

「あなたの余命は残り三千メートルです」 電話の声は冷たく言い放った。巷ではその手の病が流行っているようだった。余命三千に関わるウイルスの変種が次々に発生していて、私もそいつにやられてしまったようだった。仕方なく、なるべく動かなくて済むような生活をすることにした。買い物には行かない。必要なものは通信販売で購入する。仕事にも行かない。きっとそのうち解雇されるだろう。会社に事情を話しておいた方が良いかもしれないが、状況を説明して納得してもらえる自信がなかった。どうせもうすぐ死んでしまうの。しばらく食っていくくらいのお金はある。もう仕事のことは考えないようにしよう。残り三千メートルを有意義に過ごすにはどうすれば良いか、それだけに集中しよう。そんなことを考えていたら、また電話が鳴った

I know that the past and presente tense of japanese verbs are quite different grammatically than English or Italian's one (my mother tounge). So i would ask what is the meanings/nuances about this usage and what feeling they give in novels.

P.S. I'm asking for a natural perspective of a native speaker, not only from a linguistic/thechnical point of view. Thank you!

  • 1
    You may get some insight by thinking that Japanese tends to use the past tense where Italian uses il passto remoto/il passato prossimo (or conversely Jp present ≒ L’Imperfetto). DON'T THINK I'm suggesting a firm rule, but I guess past tense is more common for one-time event kind of thing in Japanese. Also my knowledge of Italian is rather limited, so I could be rather off.
    – sundowner
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 12:00
  • Actually i've already read about the past tense is more common to describe one-time event thing, so thanks for confirm this! Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 13:20
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    Please read my answer here: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/69663/5010
    – naruto
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 16:42
  • Thank you too! It's very helpful! Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


The present tense used can be understood as so-called historical present.

I guess the following interpretation should be reasonable. Suppose the prose is written when the phone rang. All the sentences up to することにした describe things that are past. Then 買い物は...集中しよう describe things that are ongoing or the speaker's will about future actions, except 自信がなかった. Then 電話が鳴った is a past event (from the time point of writing).

Regarding 自信がなかった, it's in the past tense probably because the writer has in mind the protagonist once tried to call but didn't due to the lack of confidence. Using 自信がない is okay here but it would sound like the protagonist's still wondering which may be a bit inconsistent with the following もう仕事のことは考えない (nice!).

  • I think "historical present" is use in Italian too, so i can more or less understand what are you saying. This thing convey a sense of "familiarity" and a more deep relation bewteen the reader and the author? Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 13:21
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    @JacopoZiroli There could be several elements, but one of them is 'live-ness', indicating the process is ongoing, which could be called a deeper reader/writer relationship (something like 'being together in the scene').
    – sundowner
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 14:25
  • Thank you too! In Italian too the historical present is used to add a liveness to the prose. Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:02

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