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It seems as if I see a question like this at least once a day.

What's the difference between "X is" and "X will"?
Should I use "X is" or "X was"?
Between "X was" and "X had been," which is grammatical?

As an actual example, the most recent of this type is “What does this achieve?” vs “What will this achieve?”

Each of these questions seems to get an answer, and each answer always points out how verb tenses are used—and that both sentences are grammatical and it's up to the person to use whichever one they wish.

The specific answers are always a bit different, because people pick different words or phrases to ask about, but the general answers are the same.

Do these repeated questions add any value? Or would it be worthwhile to find (or create) a generic post about the differences between verb tenses and grammar and simply mark all such questions (where there is no ambiguity) as a duplicate of it?

If specific questions actually do have an answer beyond that post, then they could be kept open on a case-by-case basis. (Or reopened if the questioners can demonstrate something unique about their own questions.)

After finding and reading a post from six years ago that asked Maybe have a tag for verb tense choice?, I added the tenses tag to the achieve post.

But I'm wondering if we should go further than just tagging all of these that way—assuming somebody does even that. Or does the existing system, with so many repeated questions of the same generic type and with the same generic answer, make sense as it is?

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The repeated questions add no value, and generally it appears that they can be marked as duplicates of How do the tenses and aspects in English correspond temporally to one another?

So that's what I do.

There are other questions about using the present tense to indicate the future* ('I hope it rains' or 'I hope it will rain') or the subjunctive mood* (When to use "If I was" vs. "If I were"?). These are two examples among many which might be used as duplicate links.


* Yeah, yeah. English doesn't have a proper future tense or a subjunctive mood. But they are convenient terms for English even if English behaves differently to, say, Latin.

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I'm not a big fan of the practice of marking basic questions that are about some general, but fairly broad and complex topic (like tense) as "duplicates" of some "canonical" (so to speak) question about that topic.

For one thing, I don't really like using duplicates in such a loose way.

For another thing, the "canonical" questions are often pretty old, and the supposedly "canonical" answers may not have been maintained very well. Even if the questions are related, the answers to the older post might not resolve all of the issues or possible sources of confusion that are brought up by the newer post. Rather than directing learners to brief, possibly over-simplified Internet posts like this, I think I would prefer to tell them to look at what a book about English grammar says about the use of tense. (There are many such books, aimed at teaching people of many different levels of English proficiency.)

I think it makes just as much sense to vote to close questions like this using the close reason

Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

I think duplicates are more useful for less broad categories of common questions, like "When should I use “a” vs “an”?" You can write a book about the use of English tenses, but you can't really write a book about the use of "a" vs. "an".

  • This is a good point. I suppose that, in theory, a long list of specific questions of the same type could be maintained and then the duplication could target something narrower. In practice, however, I doubt anybody would ever bother. (Unless it was actually part of their job.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jun 20 '18 at 20:04
  • @JasonBassford: Yes; I don't think Stack Exchange makes it particularly easy to find the "right" duplicates for questions like this. That's a problem I've had when trying to find questions about the use of "who" vs. "whom", which is a relatively narrow topic compared to tense, but which still has a few different aspects that aren't all adequately covered by the answers to the most frequent duplicate target, What’s the rule for using “who” and “whom” correctly? – herisson Jun 20 '18 at 20:11

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