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Temporal Language


Techniques > Use of language > Temporal Language

Method | Example | Discussion | See also



When you use time in a statement, it forces the listener to cognitively move to the time indicated. All three time-zones are widely used in persuasive conversation.


Talking about the future gets people to think of possibilities. This can distract them away from current problems that are keeping them in the here and now. Possibilities can be positive, which will keep them thinking about the future. They can also be negative, which may scare them into acting.


Using words like 'now' and 'today' gives immediacy and urgency, making the present more important. This can be used to encourage decision-making without further thinking.


Talking of the past gets people to relive past experiences. It also causes them to re-experience the emotions associated with the past memories. This can be both pleasant nostalgia (if you want them to feel good) or less comfortable thoughts (if you want them to stop doing something).

Time switching

Switching back and forth between time zones can have multiple effects. First, it causes confusion, which can lead to openness to persuasion. It also merges together past, present and future, giving a sense of continuity and timelessness.

Many tenses

You an also play with many different tenses (perfect, future perfect, pluperfect and so on). Tenses have subtle effects, typically adding completion or continuity to time effects. The perfect tense ('I ran') says an action was completed, whilst the imperfect ('I was running') gives a sense of continuing action.


What will happen if you keep on smoking?

What can I do for you today?

Remember when you were young and carefree.

Now, then, remember how you will have worked hard tomorrow evening.


When you talk about something, in order to understand that thing, the other person has to think about it. Thus, when talking in varying tenses, the other person will seek to follow along. If you put time into your language, they will, in thinking about it, will move themselves in time.

Time is an internal construct, making it a highly variable experience. This also makes it highly open to suggestion.

See also

Construction of time, Hofstede's cultural factors, Trompenaars' cultural factors


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