Past verb forms with present or future meaning

A past verb form does not always have a past meaning. Verbs like I had, you went and I was wondering are often used to talk about the present or the future.

after if, unless, supposing etc.

After if, unless and words with similar meanings, we often use past verb forms to refer to the present or the future.

  • If I had the money now I would buy a car.
  • You look as if you were just about to scream.
after it’s time, would rather and wish

After these expressions, past verb forms can have present or future meanings.

  • I wish I had a better memory.
  • Ten o’clock – it is time you went home.
distancing in questions, requests etc.

We can make questions, requests and offers more polite by using past tenses. Common expressions are I wondered, I thought, I hoped, did you want.

  • I thought you might like some coffee.
  • I wondered if you were free this evening.
modal auxiliaries

The modal auxiliaries would, should, could and might usually have present or future meanings.

  • Would you lend me some money?
  • Could you help with me for a moment?
  • She should be here soon.

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