Language - Historical present tense

Texts about past events are often written in the present tense. This is called the historical present and is used by writers to liven up texts. For example:

  • Past tense: The English attacked the Armada. Their ships were superior.
  • Present tense: The English attack the Armada. Their ships are superior.



  1. Rewrite the text  belowusing the historical present.
  2. Consider: How has using the historical present changed the style of the text? Which version do you prefer and why? Explain your opinions to a fellow student.

The Battle of Hastings

Harold drew up his army in three sections on Senlac Ridge, overlooking the battlefield. With him he had little more than 5,000 footsore and weary men to fight a Norman force of up to 15,000 infantry, archers and cavalry.

Facing such odds, Harold had no choice but to fight a defensive battle. He was forced to rely on the much-vaunted English shield-wall, behind which his men could stand and let the Norman attacks break themselves.

The tactic was a great success. Again and again, the Norman knights hurled themselves against the English shields, but they were unable to make any headway. Then, on the Norman left, the Bretons under Count Alan began to give way. Orderic Vitalis takes up the story:

The whole of William’s battle line fell back, for the rumour spread that he had been killed. But William lifted his helmet he cried: “Look at me, I'm alive and with the aid of God I will gain the victory!” No sooner had William spoken these brave words than their failing courage returned. It was the turning point of the battle.

Harold II killed by Norman arrow at Battle of Hastings, 1066 Harold II killed by Norman arrow at Battle of Hastings, 1066