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I read the quote below in a book and wondered how it would read if I were to change the verbs to simple past.

"I want to find something nice for them when I meet them later today."

I can't seem to grasp which of the below sentences would be the correct one. I mean, if they are really correct at all.

Yesterday, I wanted to find something nice for them when I meet them later in the day.

Yesterday, I wanted to find something nice for them when I met them later in the day.

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1 Answer 1

The initial statement has a problem with it. The present "want" doesn't mesh well with the phrase "later today" specifying a future time period.

The following are alternatives to the initial phrase:

  1. "I will want to find something nice for them when I meet them later today."

  2. "I want to find something nice to give them when I meet them later today."

  3. "I want to find something nice for them for when I meet them later today."

The following is the conversion of this third example to past tense.

"I wanted to find something nice for them for when I met them later in the day.

This conversion using "for when" demonstrates a passage of time between the first past tense (wanted) and the second past tense (met). Without that "for when", one might think the "want" and the "met" occurred at the same time.

To illustrate that complexity, the following statements are ambiguous in that respect.

"I wanted to find something nice to give them when I met them later in the day."

"I wanted to find something nice to give them when meeting them later in the day."

This last example accurately denotes the passage of time but uses the conditional.

"I wanted to find something nice to give them when I would meet them later in the day."

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"... when I would meet them later in the day" ??? What dialect of English do you speak? That's not grammatical in mine. (Although I believe it is used in some regions of the U.S.) –  Peter Shor Apr 1 '13 at 16:05
    
@PeterShor Actually, I was uncertain about that last one. It seems to work to make the two time periods "want" and "meet" unambiguously at different times where the other solutions don't work leaving that ambiguity. But, looking back it probably isn't grammatical. Anyway, I'm from the mid-west U.S., Utah, but don't speak with a rural accent, I'm from the north. So I say "mountain" (mou'un - with a glottal stop), I don't merge fail-fell but I do merge feel-fill. –  Xantix Apr 2 '13 at 2:02
    
@PeterShor Just found this. www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/state_UT.html , I agree with all of the bold answers except question 8 (I pronounce as in "set") and question 60 (I say "parking strip"). Hope that helps. –  Xantix Apr 2 '13 at 2:16
    
I don't know whether anybody has done a geographical survey on this use of "would" in conditionals. My impression from a brief search on the web is that it occurs in the West and the northern Midwest, but the link in the answer in this EL&U question says that it is also used in New England. It certainly seems to be an American innovation, and not standard grammar. –  Peter Shor Apr 2 '13 at 11:10
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