The English present

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Two accounts of the English present are outlined and compared: one that treats it as tense, indicating coincidence with the time of speaking; and one that treats it as modality, indicating epistemic immediacy. Well-known problems with a time-based account are overcome in a conceptual semantic description that makes explicit the mental constructions invoked in non-present uses. With a modal account, the problem is to make the notion of epistemic immediacy sufficiently clear and precise for explicit analysis and comparison to be possible. There is no doubt that the modal account is more general, but for a wide range of central uses the two are effectively equivalent, temporal coincidence providing the basis for epistemic immediacy. The former can be seen as the category prototype, the latter as a schematic (fully general) characterization.


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