it's about time

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kiolbassa

Senior Member
English
why is it that we use the past simple after "it's about time" (e.g. it's about time you got a haircut, it's about time we met/got together etc.) rather than the present tense?
I have to explain this to a student and I'm at a bit of a loss.
thanks!
 
  • Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Actually, I would use present tense if it's something that has not yet occurred:
    It's about time you get haircut! (You need a haircut)
    And past tense if it has occurred:
    It's about time you got a haircut! (You really needed a haircut, I'm glad you finally got one!)

    However if someone said "It's about time you got a haircut", and meant that I needed a haircut, you're right in that it would not sound strange. My guess it that it's just a common mistake...

    Markus
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    Markus said:
    Actually, I would use present tense if it's something that has not yet occurred:
    It's about time you get haircut! (You need a haircut)
    And past tense if it has occurred:
    It's about time you got a haircut! (You really needed a haircut, I'm glad you finally got one!)

    However if someone said "It's about time you got a haircut", and meant that I needed a haircut, you're right in that it would not sound strange. My guess it that it's just a common mistake...

    Markus
    Hi Markus,

    what you wrote sounds very strange to me, although you are (I guess) a native speaker.

    It's about/high time you did something is how this grammar is being taught worldwide, meaning that you haven't done it yet but you should.

    Jana
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    kiolbassa said:
    why is it that we use the past simple after "it's about time" (e.g. it's about time you got a haircut, it's about time we met/got together etc.) rather than the present tense?
    I have to explain this to a student and I'm at a bit of a loss.
    thanks!
    This topic was discussed here in this forum a couple of weeks ago. People versed in grammar more than me labeled it subjunctive. I am sure you will find it easily using the Search menu.

    Jana
     

    kiolbassa

    Senior Member
    English
    oh dear!
    used in this way, I think the expression "it's about time" can only refer to something that has not yet happened - i.e. it's about time you got a job means you really need to get one, not that you have gotten one - you would then say it WAS about time you got a job. This expresses relief rather than advice as in the first instance.
    or am I entirely confused?
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    kiolbassa said:
    oh dear!
    used in this way, I think the expression "it's about time" can only refer to something that has not yet happened - i.e. it's about time you got a job means you really need to get one, not that you have gotten one - you would then say it WAS about time you got a job. This expresses relief rather than advice as in the first instance.
    or am I entirely confused?
    hey kiolbassa :D long time no see ;)

    i totally agree: its about time you got a job means you need to get one. in fact my dad said this to me yesterday. i can assure that it was beause i was unemployed (and still am today as well \o/). maybe we use the past tense because it should have been done already? :s just pass it off as an idiosyncratic part of the language.

    maybe it has something to do with this type of construction: when you have eaten you may go out and play.

    the eating hasn't been done yet...

    ben
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Huh. That's weird, to me both "It's about time you do something" and "It's about time you did something" sound right. Go figure. :)
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Okay, I've thought on this a little more. To me, whether or not the action has already been completed depends on where you put the emphases in the sentence. If you put a very strong emphasis on "time", then it sounds like it has already been completed.

    Example:
    1. It's about time you got a haircut. (not yet completed)
    2. It's about time you get a haircut. (not yet completed)
    3. It's about TIME you got a haircut! (action completed)
    4. It's about TIME you get a haircut! (sounds strange, has no meaning)

    Perhaps my use of present tense is incorrect. I would be curious to know how regional this is. Other native speakers, does the second sentence sound okay or weird to you?
     

    garryknight

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    "It's about time you get a haircut" sounds strange to my British English ears. And And I don't think that "you got" isn't the subjunctive mood. I agree with Benjy on this: if you had got a job already we would be talking about it in the past tense, so "it's about time you [had already] got a job".
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    garryknight said:
    "It's about time you get a haircut" sounds strange to my British English ears. And And I don't think that "you got" isn't the subjunctive mood. I agree with Benjy on this: if you had got a job already we would be talking about it in the past tense, so "it's about time you [had already] got a job".

    Oh, Garry! Thank God! I was wondering about the use of the present tense with expressions such as "It's about time/high time/time". I was taught that they require past tense...
     

    kiolbassa

    Senior Member
    English
    garryknight said:
    "It's about time you get a haircut" sounds strange to my British English ears. And And I don't think that "you got" isn't the subjunctive mood. I agree with Benjy on this: if you had got a job already we would be talking about it in the past tense, so "it's about time you [had already] got a job".
    Thank you Garry!
    I absolutely agree - another example is: it is about time something was done about the situation -
    but I still don't know how to explain it to the student. Is the past required because of the phrase "it is high time" as Artrella would seem to suggest, or because of the silent "that" = it is about time (that) you got a haircut....
    Is it a subjunctive or not?
    Possibly, usage also differs from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    kiolbassa said:
    Thank you Garry!
    I absolutely agree - another example is: it is about time something was done about the situation -
    but I still don't know how to explain it to the student. Is the past required because of the phrase "it is high time" as Artrella would seem to suggest, or because of the silent "that" = it is about time (that) you got a haircut....
    Is it a subjunctive or not?
    Possibly, usage also differs from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
    I think it is because you need a subjunctive there Kiolbassa, that's why you use the past tense.
     

    garryknight

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    garryknight said:
    And And I don't think that "you got" isn't the subjunctive mood.
    I don't know what happened to my fingers there. I meant to say, "And I don't think that "you got" is in the subjunctive mood". But I'm not at all sure about this. Art is usually better at English grammar than I am - she's studying it now whereas I studied it thousands of years ago. But if Art says it's the subjunctive because her teacher said it is, then I'd take it with a big pinch of salt... ;)
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Does no one think "It's about time you get a haircut" sounds okay?? We haven't heard from any Americans or Canadians here, I'd like to make sure I'm not alone here! I'm finding this very strange. What about?

    It's time for you to get a haircut.
    It's time you get a haircut.

    Both of these sound right to me and they're in present tense. Or is "It's time" a different expression from "It's about time"? Or does everyone else think these should be in past tense as well?


    Markus
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    Markus said:
    Does no one think "It's about time you get a haircut" sounds okay?? We haven't heard from any Americans or Canadians here, I'd like to make sure I'm not alone here! I'm finding this very strange. What about?

    It's time for you to get a haircut.
    It's time you get a haircut.

    Both of these sound right to me and they're in present tense. Or is "It's time" a different expression from "It's about time"? Or does everyone else think these should be in past tense as well?


    Markus
    The first sentence is correct. Or you can use "It's time to have a haircut".
    Whenever these expressions are followed by the subject you need the past tense (although the meaning is present).

    It's time you got a haircut
    It's high time you started working
    It's about time he called me

    It's time for you to have a haircut
    It's about time to buy a new car
    It's high time for her to get married

    Hope this helps!
     

    garryknight

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Markus said:
    We haven't heard from any Americans or Canadians here
    Yes you have. Artrella is from America. I think you meant "people from the USA". ;)

    Markus said:
    It's time for you to get a haircut.
    It's time you get a haircut.
    The first one sounds fine. The second one still sounds odd.
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    garryknight said:
    Yes you have. Artrella is from America. I think you meant "people from the USA". ;)
    Now that's a debate I could get into! ;) How would you refer to people from the USA? USAians? United Statesers? I've never heard a satisfactory word, which is why I think most people accept the term Americans (and as a Canadian, it doesn't offend me -- I have my own word!). North American, on the other hand, would certainly be wrong!
     

    garryknight

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Well, "North Americans" would cover people from the US and Canada, which is what your post was referring to. But I don't think I've seen many people on these forums being offended by regional names. Not yet, anyway... :)
     

    fetchezlavache

    Senior Member
    france
    for what it's worth, the 'get' sentence sounds odd to me too..


    what artrella posted
    It's time you got a haircut
    It's high time you started working
    It's about time he called me
    is also what i've been taught, albeit a while ago, and i've never come across any similar sentence as the one you suggest markus :eek:
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Okay, I asked several of my friends (fellow Edmontonians), and they agree with me that both sound okay. So at least I'm not completely crazy! But since we haven't heard from any people from the United States (;)) or Canada yet, I don't know how regional this thing is. I'd really like to know! Thanks for all your input on this!

    Markus

    Oh, and the reason I don't like using North Americans is because that also covers Mexico, which is not English-speaking.
     

    lainyn

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I'm sorry Markus, but I think in this case there is only one "right" answer - from the prescriptivist's point of view, that is - you must use the subjunctive "It's about time you got a haircut"

    I'm most definitely Canadian, and currently am an Edmontonian, so you have some regional representation now.

    I think this is just a case of poor grammar amongst native speakers, caused by a lack of grammar instruction. Whether poor grammar is just different grammar is a different argument altogether, along with whether grammar needs to be taught in school.

    -Lainyn
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Hi lainyn, I'm not denying the "right" answer. But I am curious -- from a descriptionist's point of view -- does "It's about time you get a haircut" actually sound bizarre to you?
     

    lainyn

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Not so much bizarre but rather, awkward. I just wouldn't say it myself. It's not so terribly awkward that I would even notice in everyday speech, it's just that when you write it down, everybody takes notice!
     

    kiolbassa

    Senior Member
    English
    In summary, I think everyone is agreed (Markus excepted) that the past tense is correct. And maybe even Markus will agree that you will tell a child "it's about time you went to bed" and not "it's time you go to bed" (you would then use "it's time for bed").
    But I am still at a loss as to how to explain this to my foreign language students (subjunctive or not?) .....
    Thanks anyway everybody. It's been an interesting debate!

    PS adding to the American vs North vs South American debate: in "old" Europe, when you say "American" (whether you are saying it in German, French, Italian or English - Spanish I don't know) you are definitely refering to someone from the US - if you say North Amercian you mean Canada + US but not Mexico and if you mean someone from South America, you say South or Latin American (but are Mexicans included? I think not....)

    cheers! :)
     

    jacinta

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Markus said:
    Okay, I've thought on this a little more. To me, whether or not the action has already been completed depends on where you put the emphases in the sentence. If you put a very strong emphasis on "time", then it sounds like it has already been completed.

    Example:
    1. It's about time you got a haircut. (not yet completed)
    2. It's about time you get a haircut. (not yet completed)
    3. It's about TIME you got a haircut! (action completed)
    4. It's about TIME you get a haircut! (sounds strange, has no meaning)

    Perhaps my use of present tense is incorrect. I would be curious to know how regional this is. Other native speakers, does the second sentence sound okay or weird to you?
    Here I am, the lone "American"; take that however you like.

    I happen to agree with Markus. All of these examples sound fine to me. And actually, no.1 can also be completed. If my son walked into the house with his hair cut, first I would be dumbstruck, but then I would say, "It's about time you got your hair cut!!!
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    For the record, I'm not actually disagreeing with anyone about what's officially correct. I was just curious how regional my interpretation was. :)
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    jacinta said:
    Here I am, the lone "American"; take that however you like.

    I happen to agree with Markus. All of these examples sound fine to me. And actually, no.1 can also be completed. If my son walked into the house with his hair cut, first I would be dumbstruck, but then I would say, "It's about time you got your hair cut!!!
    mmmmm i would go for (in that situation) it was about time that...
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    it's about time you got your hair cut!
    it was about time you got your hair cut!

    The second doesn't sound unnatural to me, I just wouldn't choose to say it, I would pick the first because it is faster and easier for me (and perhaps slightly more natural). Note that in the case of the first sentence, in my mind it is very important how the emphases are placed in the sentence! If you put a strong emphasis on "time", then it sounds like the action has been completed. If you put the emphasis more on "hair", then it hasn't been completed yet. This really isn't the best medium to explain emphases, you may not understand unless you already interpret these sentences the same as me...
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    Markus said:
    it's about time you got your hair cut!
    it was about time you got your hair cut!

    The second doesn't sound unnatural to me, I just wouldn't choose to say it, I would pick the first because it is faster and easier for me (and perhaps slightly more natural). Note that in the case of the first sentence, in my mind it is very important how the emphases are placed in the sentence! If you put a strong emphasis on "time", then it sounds like the action has been completed. If you put the emphasis more on "hair", then it hasn't been completed yet. This really isn't the best medium to explain emphases, you may not understand unless you already interpret these sentences the same as me...

    Question... shouldn't it be "It was about time you had your hair cut"?
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    Axl said:
    Both are acceptable; though in written English had is better.

    Hi Axl, when you say "both are acceptable" you mean that both are grammatically correct? Thank you for your reply!
     

    Axl

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Artrella said:
    Hi Axl, when you say "both are acceptable" you mean that both are grammatically correct? Thank you for your reply!
    I'm 99% sure that both are. It is possible to form with have or get.

    I get my hair cut on Satudays.
    I have my hair cut on Satudays.

    But, to my ears, have sounds better.

    Axl.
     

    Magg

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    Artrella said:
    Question... shouldn't it be "It was about time you had your hair cut"?
    Hi Art,

    I also agree with Axl here. To form the "causative" you can use either "have" or "get".

    PS: I´m also used to using "have" more than "get".

    Cheers,
    Magg
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    Magg said:
    Hi Art,

    I also agree with Axl here. To form the "causative" you can use either "have" or "get".

    PS: I´m also used to using "have" more than "get".

    Cheers,
    Magg

    Hi Magg, is it possible that you use "get" when sth unpleasant occurs? I think I've been taught that differentiation between both words... although some times I find that they are used interchangeably.
    Is this common among English native speakers?
     

    Axl

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Artrella said:
    Hi Magg, is it possible that you use "get" when sth unpleasant occurs? I think I've been taught that differentiation between both words... although some times I find that they are used interchangeably.
    Is this common among English native speakers?
    I wasn't aware that there was any specific differentiation between the two. Though obviously, depending on the context, sometimes only one or the other is acceptable.
    I would say that when it is gramtically correct to do so all English speakers use them interchangeably.
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    jacinta said:
    Here I am, the lone "American"; take that however you like.

    I happen to agree with Markus. All of these examples sound fine to me. And actually, no.1 can also be completed. If my son walked into the house with his hair cut, first I would be dumbstruck, but then I would say, "It's about time you got your hair cut!!!
    jacinta;
    it's about time the lone American answered...:D and where are we to take you??
    I agree also..they all sound fine..

    te gato;)
     
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