Past tense words in present sentences

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Past tense words in present sentences

Unread postby ophe » 15 Mar 2009, 11:49


i am a newly qualified TEFL teacher and still struggling with certain questions students ask me about my last lesson i was teaching modal verbs, using with the sentence

"Its late, its time we went home" and my student was confused as to why 'went', indicating a past action can be used in a present tense sentence. for example, "it is time we ate"...

is there a name for this? or a way i can explain it simply...?

Many thanks for your help

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Re: past tense words in present sentences

Unread postby Lucy » 25 Mar 2009, 19:12

Hi Ophe,

In the phrase "it's time we went home" went doesn't actually refer to a past action. The verb denotes a present action. The meaning is: we need to go home now or we should go home now.

You can tell your students that some phrases use a past tense verb and that they just need to remember which phrases are used in this way. Some grammarians refer to this as the subjunctive, others say the subjunctive doesn't exist in English. You might not want to go into this with your students, but it is worth reading something about the subjunctive if you have the time. I will say reading about this is not a top priority for a new teacher.


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