Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Can somebody please help me understand the whole timeline thing when it comes to choosing verb tenses?

Today, I asked a friend if he wanted anything because I was going to Starbucks for lunch. He said no, so I came back empty handed, but he was like, "I didn't know you were going to go to Starbucks for real!"

I replied with the following:

I wouldn't have asked if i weren't planning on going.

But it feels like I should have said one of the following:

I wouldn't have asked if I didn't plan on going.

I wouldn't have asked if i wasn't planning on going.

I wouldn't have asked if i hadn't planned on going.

How would a native speaker decide to put these "events" on a timeline and choose verb tenses?

share|improve this question
    
You should have replied,"Well next time you'll know better." –  Jim Mar 19 '13 at 7:16
    
Given the type of question you’ve asked, I think you might be interested in our sister site for English Learners. ELL tends to be a better fit for these sorts of questions than ELU does. –  tchrist Mar 20 '13 at 15:08

3 Answers 3

Using the conjunction "if" established the subjunctive mood, something contingent upon something else happening, basic cause and effect, if-this-then-this type of scenario. For example, I would not have asked IF I weren't planning on going.

Once the subjunctive mood is established, the proper verb usage is past subjunctive singular 1st person, "were."

share|improve this answer

You used the past tense ("weren't planning on going") because it's not true: you are planning on going. We use the past tense to describe counterfactuals.

My favourite way to illustrate this is by asking about your lottery plans:

A: What will you do if you win the lottery?

B: I haven't bought a ticket.

A: Okay, but what would you do if you won the lottery?

wasn't planning has the same meaning as weren't planning -- the difference is a matter of whether you use a grammatical feature called the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is slowly fading out of English and these days it is entirely optional.

didn't plan suggests that your plan to visit Starbucks has been a long-standing feature in your life. It doesn't seem appropriate in this situation.

hadn't planned is using a different sense of the word plan. You are referring to the act of planning (He spent a long time planning his strategy.) rather than having a plan in mind (I plan to visit you this weekend.) hadn't planned suggests that the act of planning was over and done with before you asked the question. Again, it doesn't seem appropriate in this situation.

Speakers of different dialects will probably disagree about some of these interpretations. For example, I think didn't plan would be common in some parts of the US.

share|improve this answer
    
So, do you think "I wouldn't have asked if i wasn't planning on going" is the correct one? It seems like the person below is saying what I said to my friend is correct, but I'm not sure if all of my four sentences should work. –  Pato Mar 19 '13 at 12:37
    
@Pato Okay. I'll expand my answer to cover all bases. –  Pitarou Mar 20 '13 at 10:25

You are mistaken in thinking the verb of your utterance was the wrong tense. Rather, it was plural when it should have been singular.

It would be either "we weren't planning on going," or "I wasn't planning on going." All of your alternate phrases are the correct tense and the correct count and any would suffice.

share|improve this answer
    
An if construction allows what might be called the "subjunctive mood", for which "If I were..." is correct. –  St John of the Cross Mar 20 '13 at 8:15

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.