How can we link the uses of the marker NOW on the micro and the macro levels?

Blandine Pennec (Université Toulouse II, CAS)   

Prototypically, the marker NOW is used as a deictic marker specifying time. It plays a role within the framework of a sentence, whose temporal reference is equated with the moment of utterance. Therefore, in many examples, we don’t need to take into account the preceding sentences to correctly interpret the reference of the marker. We however need to have access to the parameters of the situation of utterance. In such configurations, NOW plays a role on a micro level:

  • She used to be a teacher but now she works in publishing. (CALD 3[1])

In some examples, though it still has a temporal value, NOW is used in a less prototypical way. It does not refer to the moment of utterance, but to a moment described in the narration itself:

(2) There he was when I entered, on the other side of the glass. I had only seen a wall there before, and now my heart leapt when I saw, through the Bride and the Bachelors […] (The big glass, G. Josipovici, 1991, BNC)

NOW here refers to a past moment (immediately following the one described by when I entered), that is to say NOW is rather characterized by anaphoric mechanisms than by deictic ones. It is thus necessary to take the preceding sentence into account to correctly understand its reference.

In other cases, NOW does not have a temporal value any more, but is used as a connector linking the preceding sentence and the sentence introduced.

  • “This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. Now, as momentous as this day is, it’s not the end of this journey”. (What kind of socialist is Barak Obama? J. Goldberg, 2010, COCA)

In this paragraph, NOW plays the role of a discourse marker introducing a sentence whose argumentative orientation is opposed to that of the preceding segment. It thus plays a role on a macro level, since it is to be linked with the whole preceding paragraph in order to be correctly understood.

Sometimes, in configurations presenting similitudes, NOW introduces a new illocutionary act:

(4) “It is a matter only of the little grey cells, ‘m’sieur’,” he was saying. “Your baronet is kidnapped. Now if he is kidnapped, what may we deduce?”  (A classic English crime, 1990, BNC)

Here again, NOW is used as a discourse marker (not a time marker), and plays a role on a macro level
-that of the paragraph- since it introduces a new stage in discourse. Moreover, this new step corresponds to a rhetorical question here. It seems that NOW favours the transition between the declarative sentence and the interrogative sentence.

These observations lead us to ask the following questions. Are there two different markers: the time marker (playing a role on a micro level) and the discourse marker (playing a role on the macro level), or is NOW a unique marker with two different uses? If so, how can we link the two main uses? We will try and determine the core value of the marker NOW and the conditions favouring the interpretations on the micro and the macro levels as well as intermediate cases. The study will combine semantic and pragmatic tools, and will be based on genuine examples from written and oral corpora.

[1] Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 3rd edition.


Celle A., « Entre discordance et ajustement inter-énonciatifs », Représentation du sens linguistique III, De Boeck Supérieur, 2009, p. 133-147.

Huddleston R. & Pullum G., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Nef F., « Maintenant 1 et maintenant 2 : sémantique et pragmatique ‘maintenant’ temporel et non temporel » J. David et R. Martin éds. Recherches linguistiques V, La notion d’aspect, Paris, Klincksieck.

Paillard D., « Déjà : adverbe ou marqueur discursif ? Communication présentée au colloque Chronos 6, Genève, 2004.

Schiffrin D., Discourse Markers, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Blandine Pennec (Université Toulouse II, CAS) : Blandine Pennec enseigne au département Etudes du Monde Anglophone de l’Université de Toulouse-II. Sa recherche porte notamment sur la cohérence et la cohésion et l’analyse du discours, dans une perspective énonciative. Elle examine notamment l’expression de certains liens logiques dans des corpus de textes spécialisés ainsi que les notions d’essai et d’ajustement. Dans le cadre du colloque, elle s’intéressera au marqueur now en examinant son fonctionnement à un niveau micro- (en tant que marqueur temporel) et à un niveau macro- (comme marqueur du discours) et en essayant de lier ces deux valeurs.