When do we use past verb forms with present or future meanings?

Posted by Manjusha Filed in English Grammar

A past tense does not always have a past meaning. Sometimes we use past verbs like I had and I was wondering to talk about the present or future.

Past verbs are used with present or future meanings in the following cases.

After if, unless, supposing etc.

After words like if, unless and supposing we often use past verb forms with present or future meanings.

If I knew her name, I would tell you.
If I had enough money, I could buy a car.
You look as if you were about to cry.

All the three sentences given above refer to the present or the future although we use past verb forms.

After it's time, would rather and wish

After these expressions too, past verb forms are used with present or future meanings.

It's time she went home.
It's time you confessed everything.
I wish I had more money.

Sometimes we use past verb forms in questions and requests to make them more polite. Common verb forms used for this purpose are I wondered, I thought, I hoped, etc.

I thought you were free this evening.
I was wondering if you could lend me some money.

Past modals

The modals could, would, should and might aren't really past verb forms. They usually have present or future reference.

I think she might come soon.
Jane should be here in an hour.
Would you come this way, please?

See also

Common errors with adverbs New!
Common errors with conjunctions New!
Expressing a condition
Expressing a concession or contrast
Common errors with adjectives
Common errors with pronouns
Common errors with nouns and noun phrases
Causative use of Have
Indirect questions