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Future in the past: would and would have

Discussion in 'English Only' started by greenale90, May 3, 2013.

  1. greenale90 New Member

    Italian
    Hi everybody,
    I can't understand when to use those two forms outside an if clause.
    For example I've found these sentences on Cambirdge Dictionaries Online:
    1. We realized it wouldn't be easy to find another secretary.
    2. We thought they would have got home by five o'clock, but there was no reply when we phoned.

    Both refer to a future time in a past event, so why the first use "would + base form" and the second one "would + present perfect"? I perfectly know how to use one tense and when the other one in hypothetical clauses, but not in cases like these.
    I can't understand the second one. I would have said:
    -We thought (in the past) that they would get home by five o'clock (in the future).
    Since in not reported speech it would be:
    -We think that they will get home by five o'clock. - But in this case, if I attached "but there was no reply when we phoned" it wouldn't make sense.

    The Dictionary explains that the first refers to a future time from a point of view of the past, and the second one to a future time from the point of view in the future (why future?). However I can't see this difference of the two points of view.
    I hope I have been clear enough about what I would want to know from you.
    Thank you in advance, bye.
     
  2. Gabbro Junior Member

    Canada
    Canadian English
    Both of those sentences are referring to the past from the present (or future if you look at it from the past perspective).

    Think of it this way using your second example:

    "We thought they would have got home by five o'clock, but there was no reply when we phoned." is a person speaking in the present about the past. The sentence makes no obvious reference to other points in time so it's assumed that there are only past and present.

    "We thought that they would get home by five o'clock." has 3 known time periods. --- "We thought" is in the distant past, "that they would get" is referring to the future from that distant past. The speaker is speaking in the present, which is the distant future and nearer future to those times.

    Example: They thought (at 4 o'clock - Distant Past) that [they] would get home by 5 o'clock (by 5 o'clock - Near Past). The speaker says this to someone (at 6 o'clock - Current Time).

    Long story short, the 2 sentences basically say the same thing in a different way.

    "We think that they will get home by five o'clock." --- using the previous example, this is being said at 4 o'clock. You are correct in saying that appending "but there was no reply when we phoned" makes no sense, because the phone call hasn't happened yet.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2013
  3. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    >> and the second one to a future time from the point of view in the future (why future?)

    We realized (at the time when we were considering replacing the secretary) it wouldn't be easy to find another secretary (at the time of consideration and beyond).

    Thus looking forward in time from a point in the past.


    We thought (at some time before five o'clock) they would have got home by five o'clock, but (now we know, possibly a week later, so therefore retrospectively) there was no reply when we phoned (back then, at five o'clock or just beyond).

    Thus looking back on a time when we had looked forward in time and had anticipated an event which we now know never happened.
     
  4. greenale90 New Member

    Italian
    Well, very hard! I think I have understood the difference, but, if I say:
    -We thought they WOULD GET home by five o'clock, but there was no reply when we phoned
    Is it grammatically correct, and mean the same thing of the sentence number 2? Or my only chance is to use "would have got"?
     
  5. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    In this sentence, only 'would have got' is a correct expression of the meaning. 'Would get' does not fit the sense.

    Consider these two examples:

    (a) 'We thought they would have got home by five o'clock.'
    (b) 'We thought they would get home by five o'clock.'

    (a) and (b) are both correct English, but they have different meanings. Only (a) is correct for the original sentence.

    To understand 'would have got' in the original sentence, it helps if we change it to direct statement.
    'We thought, "They will have got home by five o'clock"; but there was no reply when we phoned.'

    This makes it clear that we are dealing with three different time points.
    Point (a): the present: let us say, eight o'clock.
    Point (b): an undefined point of time, definitely later than five o'clock: let us say, six o'clock.
    Point (c): five o'clock.

    The sentence is spoken at point (a), the present, eight o'clock. All the events are now past.
    The events 'we thought', 'we phoned' and 'there was no reply' all happened, in that order, at point (b), six o'clock.

    What were 'we' thinking at six o'clock? 'We' thought, 'They will have got home by five o'clock'.
    This use of 'will' expresses an expectation based upon the incomplete information known at the time.

    'Will' in such usage means 'When the full facts are known, we will probably find that they are like this ...'
    'Will have' in this case means 'When the full facts are known, we will probably find that they got home by five o'clock'.

    In other words, the expected time of their reaching home, point (c) (five o'clock), was already in the past when the thought was expressed at point (b) (six o'clock).

    The sentence 'We thought they would get home by five o'clock' would imply that the time of reaching home was still in the future when the thought was expressed.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2013
  6. greenale90 New Member

    Italian

    I have perfectly understand what you mean, but I'm starting to doubt about one thing. If I say:
    -We thought they had got home by five o'clock, but there was no reply when we phoned
    is it not the same?

    We thought (at 6 o'clock) "they have got home by 5 o'clock", but when we phoned there was no reply (at 6 o'clock)
    Sorry to bother you, but this sentence is driving me crazy!!
     
  7. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    This is another valid case, but again the meaning is different. This version implies that at 6 o'clock they had acquired some information which made them think that the others had got home at five. If there is no reply in this case, it means that this new information is mistaken.

    The original case means that at six o'clock they were basing their expectation on earlier information only, and that they were well aware that it was old information. That is why the direct speech version of the original says 'they will have'. It is only a prediction based on knowledge from earlier in the day. No reply in this case means that their old information is out of date, because something unexpected has happened.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2013
  8. LAERRANTE Senior Member

    Italy-Center
    Italian
    Hi everybody!
    Sorry I re-open this post. I think I understood the difference, but just to be sure...

    She hoped she would pass the exam
    She hoped she would have passed the exam.

    I feel they're both correct, but they have totally different meanings.

    In the first case we don't know if she passed the exam, while in the second case we know she didn't. Is that right?

    Just try to imagine:

    1) It's 5.00 pm and I'm home talking to Sarah. She had an exam in the morning (at 9.00 am) and she still doesn't know if she passed it. I would say:
    Sarah said she hoped she would pass the exam.

    2) It's 5.00 pm and I'm home talking to Sarah. She had an exam in the morning (at 9.00 am) and she does know she didn't pass it. I would say:
    Sarah said she hoped she would have passed the exam.

    Am I right?

    Thanks a lot!
    L
     
  9. Glenfarclas Senior Member

    Chicago
    English (American)
    You're right about the first sentence, but the correct way to express the second case would be, "She had hoped that she would pass the exam."
     
  10. LAERRANTE Senior Member

    Italy-Center
    Italian
    I know the indirect speech implies the past perfect if I have a simple past in the direct speech. But I was imagining a different situation. I mean, if it were 6.00 pm and I talked to Sarah at 5.00 pm. (just one hour before!). She had an exam in the morning (at 9.00 am) and she knows she didn't pass it. Couldn't I say "Sarah hoped she would have passed the exam"? Do I really need to use the past perfect even if I am not referring to a past event? Or it's just because it's an indirect speech with a simple past?
    Sorry I'm bothering you
    :D
     
  11. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    German/English bilingual
    It has to be "had hoped" because at the time you were talking to her she already knew she had failed, so was no longer hoping. She was telling you of her earlier hope.
    It has nothing to do with indirect speech, but it relates two different events (her hoping and her telling you) that are both in the past, but one is before the other. So it's "past before the past", the perfect situation for past perfect.
     
  12. LAERRANTE Senior Member

    Italy-Center
    Italian
    Ok, thank you so much! :)
     

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