Past verb forms with present or future meaning

A past tense form does not always have a past meaning. In some kinds of sentences we use past verb forms to talk about the present or future.

After if, unless, supposing etc.

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

  • You look as if you were frightened.
  • If I got my rise, I would buy a car.
  • If you caught the early morning flight, you could be in Singapore by supper-time.

After it’s time, would rather and wish

Past verb forms can be used with a present or future meaning after these expressions.

  • I wish I had more money.
  • Ten o’clock – it is time you went home.

In questions and requests

We can make questions, requests and offers sound more polite by using past tenses. Common expressions are I wondered, I thought, I hoped etc. Past progressive verb forms like I was wondering are even more polite.

  • I was hoping you could lend me a pound.
  • I wondered if you were free this evening.

Modal auxiliaries

The modal auxiliaries could, should, might and would usually have present reference.

  • Could you help me with my homework?
  • Would you mind my smoking?