Tense after "pretend"


Senior Member

What is the tense to be used after "pretend" or "Let's pretend X"?

Let's pretend you are/were smart/right/wrong/etc.
Let's pretend he is/was/were " " ".
Let's pretend this car is/was/were yellow.
He pretends he is/was/were a yellow car.

So, I don't know if it's grammatical at all or just my German brain trying to project German grammar patterns onto English language, but my guess is it's like in conditional sentences ("if", "wish", stuff like that), where you use the "past tense" (actually conditional, but it's similar), because the thing you assume is not real ("I wish I were smart, but I am not", "If I were smart I would not be stupid.").
Does it work like this with "pretend", too? Because in German it does, so I'm a bit confused.

Best regards,
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Normally we pretend something is true. We're not looking at a distant alternative world where it would be true - we're entering a make-believe world where it is true. Let's pretend this car is a Ferrari. Now I'm the driver and I'm leading the pack at Nürburgring, and so on.

    I suppose past tense can be used for counterfactuals that are gone - pretending something that might have happened but didn't. You chose the Ferrari, but (let's) pretend you chose the Lamborghini. Now what would have happened then?

    Thomas O'Maley

    Senior Member
    I am not a native speaker of English.
    I'd also, at least with some verbs, be inclined to use "pretend" followed by the past tense form if I wanted to indicate a make-believe situation. One of the uses of the past tense is to indicate a counterfactual situation, be it in a conditional construction or with lexical verbs carrying the meaning of counterfactuality.
    In this thread on the forum http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=768315 native speakers were unanimous in rejecting the use of the past form with "pretend" and "imagine" in this sense. On the other hand, there is a large number of Google results where these verbs are followed by the counterfactual use the past tense. Here are the first hits for the searches "Let's pretend we had" and "Let's imagine we had", both relating to political matters:

    Let's pretend we had a functional Congress.

    Let's imagine we had proportional representation at all levels of government.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    French - France

    In a movie, a character says:

    Let's just go back to pretending that neither of us even exist.

    Is it correct?

    Thank you.