Time clause with 'when' in the past.

Fredziu

Senior Member
Polish
Hello everyone,

Is it possible to move a time clause with 'when' to the past without losing its future-in-the-past meaning?

Example: What is she supposed to do when she sees him? --> What was she supposed to do when she saw him?

Can the time clause in the past tense be understood as referring to the future in the past, or would it always be understood as a past action?

 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm not 100% sure I've understood your question, Fredziu.

    But yes: the backshifted version of
    > What is she supposed to do when she sees him?
    is indeed
    > What was she supposed to do when she saw him?
    :thumbsup:
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    You can maintain the present tense if the event has not happened yet:

    What was she supposed to do when she sees him?

    For example, What was she told (yesterday) to do when she sees him (tomorrow)?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's certainly possible, doji.

    But I'd say it's a lot less likely than Fredziu's original suggestion.
     
    Last edited:

    Fredziu

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I'm not 100% sure I've understood your question, Fredziu.
    What I mean is that the 'when' clause in the past tense could refer to the past rather than the future in the past. Am I right?

    Example 1: A: Why did she run away?
    B: And what was she supposed to do when she saw a bear?

    Now, I was wondering if this kind of 'when' clause in the past tense could refer to the future in the past in a different context.

    Example 2: A: She was helping Tim, a reporter, that afternoon. She had to hide behind a tree and wait until she saw Stalker coming in his blue Jaguar.
    B: What was she supposed to do when she saw him?
    A: She was supposed to call Tim.

    Does the underlined question in the second example sound idiomatic and does it refer to the future in the past?
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    What I mean is that the 'when' clause in the past tense could refer to the past rather than the future in the past. Am I right?

    Example 1: A: Why did she run away?
    B: And what was she supposed to do when she saw a bear?

    Now, I was wondering if this kind of 'when' clause in the past tense could refer to the future in the past in a different context.

    Example 2: A: She was helping Tim, a reporter, that afternoon. She had to hide behind a tree and wait until she saw Stalker coming in his blue Jaguar.
    B: What was she supposed to do when she saw him?
    A: She was supposed to call Tim.

    Does the underlined question in the second example sound idiomatic and does it refer to the future in the past?
    Basic rule: what happened in the past is expressed in the past (including a future in the past):

    And what was she supposed to do when she saw a bear?
    What was
    she supposed to do when she saw him?

    That's as far as grammar takes us. And so, yes, your sentences are correct and idiomatic. Now, to know if "was" actually refers to a future in the past, you need context. In the context you've given us, example 2 refers to a future in the past.

    Tense (grammar) is an expression of time (physics). There are only two tenses in English, present and past. If your examples happened in past time, then the only tense you can use is the past tense.
     
    Last edited:
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