it's time we went to the station

JoyMark

New Member
Hebrew
Hi there,

I was wondering which one of the following options is the correct one and why. Thank you So very much for your help.

We are late, it's time we-----(went/ go / were) to the station.
it's time we WENT to the station? why- in the past tense?

Thanks again!!!!

Joy
 
  • Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    The past tense form is used to describe things that haven't actually happened, but that we think should have happened, or that we wish to happen; this is sometimes called the "unreal past". It's also used in conditionals expressing hypothetical or imagined events.

    "It's time we went" could be expressed in other ways that use "went" as the unreal past, which "imagine" a desired event as if it had already happened:
    "It would be good if we went."
    "I'd rather we went."

    "It's time we went" is a rather oblique usage of the unreal past, as it does not have the markers (conditional, wish/preference) of the above examples, but nevertheless, that is what is happening.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Sigh, what a hard language this is. I love your answer, Matching Mole.

    Do you think it is also because our entire way of describing future events is not shown in veb endings (the way past tenses are marked) so we end up with a variety of ways of describing future time that use bits of verbs' morphology?
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Hi there,

    I was wondering which one of the following options is the correct one and why. Thank you So very much for your help.

    We are late, it's time we-----(went/ go / were) to the station.
    it's time we WENT to the station? why- in the past tense?

    Thanks again!!!!

    Joy
    It isn't actually a past tense.

    It is the subjunctive, which happens to have the same form as the past tense, with the exception of the verb "to be"


    It's time I were in bed.
    It's time we went to the station.

    It's time she were in bed.
    It's time she went to the station.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It isn't actually a past tense.

    It is the subjunctive
    I prefer MM's "unreal past" explanation for this particular usage, because I could never bring myself, however formal the situation, to say "it's time I were"/ "it'e time she were".

    It would have to be
    It's time I was in bed.
    It's time she was in bed.


    PS: Incidentally, at least one of the earlier threads suggested that AmE is happy to use the present subjunctive alongside the past: It's time she go as well as it's time she went. This sounds very, very strange to me: the past tense is always the safe answer;).
     
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    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    "It's time she go" sounds perfectly natural to me (an American) as well as "it's time she went" but I agree that I would never say "it's time I were in bed". I don't think it's helpful or accurate to classify the verbs in this structure as subjunctive. My best advice is just to memorize that "it's time that..." is normally followed by a past tense. It's just one of those phrases that behaves somewhat strangely and can be difficult to analyze using grammatical generalizations, like 'rather'. Better to memorize how it's used and not worry about it too much. We frequently use past progressive tenses as well: "It's time I was going." (Never, never, never, never "it's time I were going"!)
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Isn't English great?
    I disagree with absolutely everything that iskndarbey has just written, but then we were brought up at least 5000 kms apart in two countries that actually fought each other not to be together (at least,that was the reason one of them fought).
    I also disagree on this thread with Loob, which surprises me more, and would have answered identically to Brioche if he hadn't got there before me.
    It's obviously time I were quicker on the draw !
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Everything, Spira???:confused:

    You disagree with his statement that "it's time she go" is acceptable to him as an AmE speaker?

    You disagree with his suggestion that he wouldn't say "it's time I were in bed"?
    I knew someone would pick up on that, but wrote it anyway !
    Of course I don't disagree that he accepts "its' time to go", I disagree that it is acceptable (very strange indeed to me. Maybe it's ebonics?)
    And no, I don't disagree that he wouldn't say "it's time I were in bed", but I myself would say it.

    Thank you for being so precise, Loob.
    I also disagree with your answer to the actual question :)
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    That's really funny, I had no idea that form ("It's time I were going") could be used in British English. Certainly never on this side of the pond. I assume you wouldn't say "It's time she go", as we would over here?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I knew someone would pick up on that, but wrote it anyway !
    Of course I don't disagree that he accepts "its' time to go", I disagree that it is acceptable (very strange indeed to me. Maybe it's ebonics?)
    And no, I don't disagree that he wouldn't say "it's time I were in bed", but I myself would say it.

    Thank you for being so precise, Loob.
    I also disagree with your answer to the actual question :)
    You'll see I deleted my post before you answered it, once I realised you'd expanded your earlier post;)
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I knew someone would pick up on that, but wrote it anyway !
    Of course I don't disagree that he accepts "its' time to go", I disagree that it is acceptable (very strange indeed to me. Maybe it's ebonics?)
    And no, I don't disagree that he wouldn't say "it's time I were in bed", but I myself would say it.

    Thank you for being so precise, Loob.
    I also disagree with your answer to the actual question :)
    Nothing to do with Ebonics or AAVE, it's just a garden variety present subjunctive, which seems mostly moribund in British English.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's really funny, I had no idea that form ("It's time I were going") could be used in British English.
    It's pretty unusual, I think (clearly Spira would disagree:D).

    Here's the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language on the subject:
    This construction ... hardly allows an irrealis: it is high time he was/?were in bed.
    (Irrealis is the CGEL term for a past subjunctive, and the ? means "of questionable grammaticality".)
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Since the original question is about "went/go", I'd like to chime in on that aspect.

    I would use "went":

    It's (high) time he went to bed. :tick:
    It's (high) time he goes to bed. :cross:

    The second one sounds very strange to me.

    It's time I started getting my work done. :tick:
    It's time I start getting my work done. :cross:

    Once again, the second one sounds very strange to me.

    (As far as the was/were thing goes, I'm not sure why we would use "I were" when we simply shifted everything into the past in all other cases: "I went", "I started", etc. To me, "I was" makes more sense.)
     

    LQZ

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    1 It is (high) time for her to go to school.
    2 It is (high) time she went to school.

    Dear all,

    Could you explain to me whether sentences 1 and 2 are talking about the same thing? If not, what is the difference?

    Thanks.
     

    Pawa

    Member
    Hungarian
    Hi LQZ,

    Sentence 1 simple implies that she should go to school.
    Sentence 2 means that it is late, and she has forgotten the action.

    It is better to use "high" only in the second version. In that case, you emphasize that it is too late.
     

    Valvs

    Senior Member
    Russian
    (As far as the was/were thing goes, I'm not sure why we would use "I were" when we simply shifted everything into the past in all other cases: "I went", "I started", etc. To me, "I was" makes more sense.)
    And how do you know you were using the past tense rather than the past subjunctive in all other cases? After all, the both forms are identical for all verbs but "be", as Brioche noted earlier.
    For what it's worth, when I was studying English at school in 1970s, we were taught to use the past subjunctive here: "It's time he were in bed", etc. (I guess I should add that our textbooks were highly prescriptive and rather outdated in that they taught the variety of the language that had been used by the English educated classes in the first half of the 20th century.)
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    For what it's worth, when I was studying English at school in 1970s, we were taught to use the past subjunctive here: "It's time he were in bed", etc.
    As I've said in previous threads, "It's time he were" is not an option for me; I could only use the past indicative "It's time he was".
     

    Thomas Veil

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    You could always avoid the whole dilemma and say "It's time (for us) to go to the station".
    That would be my preference. But between "It's time I was in bed" and "It's time I were in bed", I prefer the latter. And I'm American.

    Of course I don't disagree that he accepts "its' time to go", I disagree that it is acceptable (very strange indeed to me. Maybe it's ebonics?)
    Wow. Are you referring to the apostrophe at the end of "its"? If not, I find it bizarre that you have a problem with it.
     

    Valvs

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As I've said in previous threads, "It's time he were" is not an option for me; I could only use the past indicative "It's time he was".
    Actually, you've said that in this very thread, so I am well aware of your opinion :). But the fact remains that in a fairly recent past (several decades ago), grammar books insisted on using the past subjunctive in that construction. Perhaps the past indicative is acceptable today as well.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Actually, you've said that in this very thread, so I am well aware of your opinion :). But the fact remains that in a fairly recent past (several decades ago), grammar books insisted on using the past subjunctive in that construction. Perhaps the past indicative is acceptable today as well.
    See post 15 for the CGEL view. But that doesn't exclude other options:).
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Yes, I am. It's past indicative, not past subjunctive, for me:).

    Hi LQZ,

    Sentence 1 simple implies that she should go to school.
    Sentence 2 means that it is late, and she has forgotten the action.

    It is better to use "high" only in the second version. In that case, you emphasize that it is too late.
    I don't think of it as "late", only that there is an urgency or social correctness about it. She hasn't gone to school yet and she should.
    I agree with both these points.
     

    sergio11

    Senior Member
    Spanish (lunfardo)
    Yes, I am. It's past indicative, not past subjunctive, for me:).
    The indicative mood expresses a factual statement of an action that has occurred, is occurring or will occur. It does not express an action that should be occurring, should have occurred or should occur in the future. If you agreed with the statement by JamesM,

    She hasn't gone to school yet and she should.
    then you should consider it to be a subjunctive.

    Greetings

    Post Scriptum: By the way, I understand perfectly the irony of a non-English speaking person, at least not natively, trying to engage in linguistic debates about English with a British citizen. Don't think I have not noticed that. I hope you forgive my audacity.
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    That would be my preference. But between "It's time I was in bed" and "It's time I were in bed", I prefer the latter. And I'm American.
    ...
    Interesting.

    Regardless of the opinions of the theoreticians on this point, the normal BE form is "It's time I was in bed."
    I don't believe I have ever heard "It's time I were ..." or "It's time he were...".
    ___________________________________

    Interesting (not really!) that none of the corpuses (BNC, COCA|, COHA) record anyone saying (or writing) "it's time I were".
    Almost likewise for "it's time he were".
    I found one, in COHA, dated 1894.
    Well, then, my good fellow, it's time he were up.
    I found one of "it's time she were" in COHA, dated 1996.
    It's time she were wed, she thought.

    _________________________________________


    Let's do the high-risk Google check :)
    "It's time I were" ... ... 23 results.
    "It's time he were" ... ... 18 results.
    "It's time she were" ... ... 5 results.

    I think I am convinced that this form is not naturally used in any variety of English.
     
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    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    My favourite grammar book, A Practical English Grammar 4th by A J Thompson and A V Martinet reads

    It's time subject + past subjunctive
    But
    It is time + I/he/she/it CANNOT be followed by were
    It's time I was going:tick:
    It's time I were going:cross:
     

    sergio11

    Senior Member
    Spanish (lunfardo)
    My favourite grammar book, A Practical English Grammar 4th by A J Thompson and A V Martinet reads

    It's time subject + past subjunctive
    But
    It is time + I/he/she/it CANNOT be followed by were
    It's time I was going:tick:
    It's time I were going:cross:
    This shows that the rule is to use the past subjunctive, and that the verb to be is a special case. You cannot make a general rule based on one irregular case.

    The confusion stems from the fact that, in English, the past subjunctive and the past indicative have identical morphologies, and people think they are using one when they are using the other.

    So yes, you are right in that you cannot say "it's time I were..." or "it's time she were...," but as the Thompson and Martinet grammar points out, that is a special case, and with all other verbs the subjunctive is used.

    However, the subjunctive has been dying a slow death in English, and I found the following quote:

    Through the years, some have advocated the formal extinguishment of the subjunctive. W. Somerset Maugham said, "The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is to put it out of its misery as soon as possible."
    I think this is what we are witnessing.

    Greetings
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    Interesting (not really!) that none of the corpuses (BNC, COCA, COHA) record anyone saying (or writing) "it's time I were".
    Not with I, as far as I can tell, but with some 3rd person singular pronouns. I found a few examples of it were, but they don't sound grammatical to me:

    • Yeah it's about time it were shaken up now that Labour Party er this government er, erm they're agreeing to this (BNC)
    • For your army, it is more than time it were gathered and about you (COHA)
    And of course they are vastly outnumbered by the thousands of occurrences of time it was.

    More interesting (really) is the occurrence of the past subjunctive with something in COCA/COHA:

    • It's about time something were done about the high cost of welfare for the politically well-connected. (COCA)
    • it is time something were said of the duty of the individual to his own integrity, to his conscience, in the good round eighteenth century term (COHA)
    • Assuredly, it is time something were done to put a stop to the constant and progressive demoralization of the public mind by vulgar, morbid, and impure plays :D (COHA)
    In this case the numbers are much closer: 12 was vs 6 were. And while I would personally still use was here, were doesn't sound at all ungrammatical to me.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    This shows that the rule is to use the past subjunctive, and that the verb to be is a special case. You cannot make a general rule based on one irregular case.

    The confusion stems from the fact that, in English, the past subjunctive and the past indicative have identical morphologies, and people think they are using one when they are using the other.

    So yes, you are right in that you cannot say "it's time I were..." or "it's time she were...," but as the Thompson and Martinet grammar points out, that is a special case, and with all other verbs the subjunctive is used.
    [...]
    As the forms are identical, I don't see that one can say with confidence which one is using. Thompson and Martinet aren't necessarily right about calling for the past subjunctive after it's time that, and I notice that they aren't in line with this summary of scholarly opinion on the subject.

    It's even more interesting that people, mostly, I notice, people brought up on romance languages, who are naturally used to the subjunctive, insist that we are using a past subjunctive, even though in the case of the verb to be, where the indicative and subjunctive forms are different (so it's evident which we are using), we can be seen very often to prefer the indicative.

    That bit about to be being a special case was particularly breath-taking, and Thompson and Martinet cannot point out what is not the case, so I doubt if they have pointed out anything there. To say that the one case where our choice is clear is an exception and should be discounted, and that in all the other cases, where we can't tell from the form, we are using the subjunctive, looks specious to me. I wouldn't want evidence like that on my side in a court of law.
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    I agree that the possibility of 1st and 3rd person singular were is the most reliable criterion for identifying the past subjunctive, and that this argument mostly fails for the expression it's time X. However, I don't believe that this is the only criterion, nor a necessary one. As we know, there are vanishingly few constructions where singular were must be used, and in many contexts speakers now prefer was. So it should not be surprising if some constructions, like it's time, now completely disallow were.

    There are good reasons, I think, to say that we are still dealing with a past subjunctive. sergio11 has already mentioned them:
    • We use a past tense form that does not have past tense meaning.
    • The context is irrealis / contrary-to-fact / volitional / etc.
    If you wish to give absolute priority to the morphological criterion (the near-impossibility of singular were), then you can say that it's time is followed by a past indicative. But we shouldn't simply ignore the fact that It's time we went to the station is actually quite unlike We went to the station. From a learner's point of view, this must be rather mysterious, and I think that pointing out the similarity between it's time and past subjunctive constructions like irrealis if and wish makes good sense.

    What does not make sense is insisting that exactly one of the labels "past indicative" or "past subjunctive" must absolutely be correct (and that the other one must absolutely be wrong).
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I haven't been following all of this, but it appears from the last few posts that the suggestion is that native BE speakers use past subjunctive for verbs that do not have a distinctive form for the past subjunctive, and past indicative for the one verb that does have a distinctive form.

    Why bother to confound learners with this somewhat eccentric notion?

    It's time that <simple past>.
    Easy.
     

    0bito

    Senior Member
    Español, España
    But you people do actually say "If I were you, I would..." and that "I were" is not past simple, but subjuntive. So you DO use subjuntive :O
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But you people do actually say "If I were you, I would..." and that "I were" is not past simple, but subjuntive. So you DO use subjuntive :O
    I'm not clear, Obito, whom you are addressing with this mildly opprobrious 'you people', but if you include me in the term, I'd reply that the fact that we use a past subjunctive in other cases doesn't mean that we use it in the case we are considering in this thread - it is time that + ?.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    But you people do actually say "If I were you, I would..." and that "I were" is not past simple, but subjuntive. So you DO use subjuntive :O
    Yes, we do - or at least, I do. I'm a great fan of the subjunctive and this awful use of "If I was you, I would ... " really grates on me. :mad:

    However, as TT correctly points out (post #40) the example you're citing is a different grammatical construction from the original one under discussion here. In the OP's example "It's time we went to the station" you can't tell whether that's a subjunctive or an indicative, because the verb forms are the same. If you change it to one where they're different and try "It's time he were going to the station", then I agree with Loob (post #23) that in modern British English we would not use a subjunctive there. To me it sounds positively stilted almost to the point of being archaic. :(
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I don't see how it can be indicative because I would expect "It's time he goes to the station" for the indicative. Am I missing something?
    Ah, but surely that's the present tense of the indicative (the present subjunctive would be "It's time he go to the station").

    The OP's question was why we use the past tense "went", and that's evolved into this discussion as to whether it's the simple past tense of the indicative or a past tense subjunctive. :)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I understand. I guess what I am saying is that I assume it is more than simply the past indicative because there is no reason not to use the present indicative. That is why I have always assumed it was the subjunctive. I don't see any reason to switch to past indicative when it is "It is time he..." Basic agreement of tenses would call for the present indicative, wouldn't it?
     

    0bito

    Senior Member
    Español, España
    I understand. I guess what I am saying is that I assume it is more than simply the past indicative because there is no reason not to use the present indicative. That is why I have always assumed it was the subjunctive. I don't see any reason to switch to past indicative when it is "It is time he..." Basic agreement of tenses would call for the present indicative, wouldn't it?
    I would normally think that "It is time" requires either "to+infinitive" or "subject+subjuntive". It is kinda hard for me to understand why would "went" be an indicative verb rather than a subjuntive one, whether it be in the past or present tense :p
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That article has set me thinking, James. How can he be so confident it's a subjunctive?

    Is it wrong in AE to say It's time I was going? I think that would be quite possible in BE.

    The ngrams (click here and then click the blue search lots of books) suggest it's possible in both languages: I wonder what mood and tense you consider the 'was' to be.

    I suspect you'd prefer to say It's time I went, but that's not quite the point.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I don't think the BBC author is confident, TT: he says he thinks it's the subjunctive....

    I used to think we used past subjunctive after "It's time" too, until I realised that "It's time I were X" was, for me, completely out of the question.

    James, you said in post 16 that "[It's time] I was" makes more sense than "[It's time] I were": have you changed your mind?

    -----

    PS. Post 38 is still one of my favourite panj posts :D.
     
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    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Yes, we do - or at least, I do. I'm a great fan of the subjunctive and this awful use of "If I was you, I would ... " really grates on me. :mad:

    However, as TT correctly points out (post #40) the example you're citing is a different grammatical construction from the original one under discussion here. In the OP's example "It's time we went to the station" you can't tell whether that's a subjunctive or an indicative, because the verb forms are the same. If you change it to one where they're different and try "It's time he were going to the station", then I agree with Loob (post #23) that in modern British English we would not use a subjunctive there. To me it sounds positively stilted almost to the point of being archaic. :(
    It is often helpful to alter examples in order to use verbs which have different indicative and subjunctive forms. DonnyB has done that. As a speaker of American English, I would not hesitate to say, "It's time he were going to the station" or "It's time I were leaving." or "It's time I were in bed." I would not use 'was' in these sentences.
     
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