Does ‘in 20 years’ indicates time in the past or future

ABC city sees a doubling of air pollution in 20 years.

does this ‘in 20 years’ mean the past 20 years or the next 20 years to come?
I have found a similar structure in news titles, see quoted:

With Covid surge, Karnataka sees cases doubling in 10 days

It seems the indicated time refers to the past. But ‘in’ can also mean time in the future right?

Answer

Does "in 20 years" indicates time in the past or future?

No.  It’s a prepositional phrase.  It doesn’t have a verb, and it doesn’t have any tense.  On its own, it doesn’t indicate anything about the past, the present, or the future.

 

With Covid surge, Karnataka sees cases doubling in 10 days.

The only finite verb here is "sees", which is a present-tense construction.  This headline expresses the current state of a trend.  The participle "doubling" (even though it’s traditionally called a present participle) does not have any tense, and so the complete phrase "doubling in 10 days" is also a tense-free constituent.  It is natural to assume that doubling in 10 days has happened in the recent past and will continue in the near future.

 

ABC city sees a doubling of air pollution in 20 years.

This example uses similar grammar: a phrase with no tense inside a present-tense clause.  Here, the "doubling of air pollution in 20 years" is a gerund phase acting as the direct object. 

This might not be the same sense of the verb to see.  In the earlier example, to see probably means something like to experience or to observe.  In this example, to see probably means something like to forecast or to anticipate.

One difference is that we’ve gone from days to years.  Another is that the doubling is itself the direct object here, although "cases" is the object in the first example.  Pragmatically, the forecasting interpretation is more likely — although additional context could easily change that.

 
The tense of the verb, the meaning of the verb, and the way that the constituent in question attaches to the verb all influence how (and even whether) we place that constituent in time.  The object of a present-tense observation makes sense in the present, and the object of a present-tense forecast makes sense in the future.

A prepositional phrase, and even a participial phrase, has no tense.  Such phrases can be used in clauses with any tense.  What matters is how it relates to a constituent that does have tense.

Attribution
Source : Link , Question Author : Elizabeth , Answer Author : Gary Botnovcan

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