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UNREAL TIME

THE PRINCIPLE OF UNREAL TIME

The rule is simple and concerns unreal contexts (e.g. I wish clauses, unreal conditional clauses). For sentences with a present of future meaning we use past tense, for a past meaning we use past perfect.


Present meaning --> past tense

future meaning --> past tense

Past meaning --> past perfect


Let’s look where this unreal time is used:


WOULD RATHER

  • would rather + verb in present → talking about preference

I would rather do this task (than finish this presentation).

My mum would rather have two jobs than be bored at home.


  • would rather + subject + past simple → referring to present/ future

I would rather you tried to make your own sentence.

My neighbour would rather I didn't buy cats.

I would rather Victor went on fewer business trips. (He goes on many trips.)


  • would rather + subject + past perfect → referring to past

I would rather Victor had gone to the mountains with me. (He didn’t go there with me)

I would rather Emma had gone on fewer business trips. (She went on many trips.)


IT’S (HIGH) TIME

  • followed by to infinitive - the right time has arrived for something

It's time to cook lunch.

It is time to go.

It is time to start working out.

It's time to take a nap.


  • followed by for + subject + to infinitive

It's time for Petr to find a new job.

It's time for Veronika to make some friends.

It's time for me to lose some weight.


  • followed by + subject + past - referring to present or future

It's time I took a nap.

It's time Veronika made some friends.

It's time I lost some weight.


I WISH / IF ONLY

Detailed information in this article: https://www.terceflmc.com/post/i-wish-if-only


WHAT IF, SUPPOSE, SUPPOSING, IMAGINE

Clauses used after the expressions ‘what if, suppose, supposing, imagine’ behave the same way as after ‘if’. These clauses introduce a hypothetical situation and focus on what they could cause.

What if you went with us?

Suppose you were fired. Would you chill or look immediately for a new job?

AS IF, AS THOUGH

Even after the connectors ‘as if’ and ‘as though‘ unreal time is used when talking about something hypothetical.

He answered as if he was upset.

Liam acts as if he had never been here before.


Now compare:

He looks as if he knew the answer. (he gives the impression that he knows, but we don’t know whether he knows or not)

He looks as if he knows the answer. (he knows the answer)


He seems as if he had been working the whole night. (it seems that he’s been working the whole night, but we don’t know whether he has or not)

He seems as if he has been working the whole night. (he has been working the whole night)

If the situation is true, we use a real tense to express present or past time.



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