It's time someone did/was doing something

English grammar questions, answered by Alan

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It's time someone did/was doing something

Post by Rustamsher » Fri Jun 14, 2013 7:33 am

It is time/high time/about time we stopped this!

It is always a rule that whenever a verb follows this construction in a sentence, one must put the verb in the past tense like the above?

Some ESL - expert answered as follows:

No, it's not a rule.
People are apt to say "it's high time we stop this" as well.
Examples abound.

1. It's time you go to bed.
2. It's time you went to bed.

Both sentences are grammatically correct and both use the subjunctive. Sentence 1 uses
the present form of the subjunctive and sentence 2 uses the past form of the subjunctive.
Sentence 2 (with the structure "it's time you went") would be the far more commonly used
sentence. People sometimes use the format in sentence 1 ("it's time you go") too, but it may
tend to sound somewhat more demanding or insistent.
There are other types of sentences in which the present subjunctive would be much
more common. For example: "It's imperative that he be on time in the future.
If he's ever late again, he'll be fired. The past subjunctive form is the more commonly used
subjunctive form after the phrase 'It's (high/about) time'. However, the present subjunctive
is also sometimes used in combination with 'It's (high/about) time', and that is also correct.
Thus, both of the sentences are correct. However, the second sentence (with the past
subjunctive) would be used quite a bit more often.
It is also true that you can reword the sentence so that it does not use either the past or
the present the subjunctive (i.e. reword it using 'for' and the to-infinitive)

My question № 1: What ESL-expert said is true? (Perhaps, the Present tense/present subjunctive in this construction is possible in informal style,isn't it?)

In one grammar book the following rule is given:

It's time + sb/sth + Past continuous
It's time we were leaving.

Question № 2: Is the Past continuous form possible in the "it's (high/about) time someone ..." construction?

Many thanks

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Re: It's time someone did/was doing something

Post by Alan » Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:36 am

No, I cannot agree with your "expert": the present tense is NOT correct by the lights of standard educated usage!

Yes the past continuous is perfectly possible, and often the more natural choice. The point is that the finite verb itself is a past tense form, irrespective of aspect (simple v. continuous).