Asking a question about the past using the present tense


I would like to understand why the following is done in English:

why do we often phrase a question regarding a past event

using the present tense while we answer the question with the past tense?




"Did you go to France this year?"

Note the words 'you go' are in the present tense.


A possible answer might be:

"I went to France in May."

Note the words "I went" are in the past tense.


Can someone explain why we can use the present tense to ask the question while we use the past tense to answer the same question?


Thank you,


Swartz Creek Michigan

edited Aug 29 '12 at 03:57 artistnatural New member

2 answers


It only seems like we are using the present tense, but it is really something else.


The auxillary verb "do" --  do, does, did, will do, have/had done -- is always followed by the base form of the main verb. Since the base form is also the present tense, it seems as if we are using the present tense. In truth, the tense of the entire verb formulation (auxillary verb + main form verb) follows the tense of the auxillary verb. This rule holds true for both questions and statements.


Did they travel to Greece last year? Did = past tense plural auxillary verb. Travel = base form main verb.


I hope this helps.

link answered Aug 29 '12 at 04:29 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Well Jeff I appreciate your explanation but sad to say I do not understand the terms like 'base form'. However I gather you are writing that the question is not really in the present tense and this is because 'did' is the true determinant of tense.

I thank you for your answer.


artistnaturalSep 02 '12 at 22:37

Your conclusion is correct. As you know, various forms of a verb are used to indicate different tenses. We use the term "base form" to indicate the basic, untensed form of the verb. It is this form of the verb that can be used with infinitives and helping verbs. It is often the same form as the present tense.

Jeff PribylSep 03 '12 at 17:12

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they are followed by first form of verb which he termed as base form.

link comment answered Jun 28 at 23:06 Muhammad Zaid New member

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