Why do we use the simple past but not the present or future in the following expressions:
Don't you think it's time we went a little further
Don't you think it's time we ate
Don't you think it's time we went home
It's an example of the past subjunctive:
Your examples are correct, and replacing them with simple present tense verbs wouldn't be standard usage.
To give the issue an extra spin, the article goes on to say that the present tense is also valid, with a slight twist in meaning:
FumbleFingers, in the comments below, questions the validity of the present tense construction. The outcome of our discussion (such as it was) was that it appears to be significantly less common (therefore either newfangled, dialectical, or both), and it is dubious whether most people would accept it. So my best advice is to take that paragraph with a grain of salt, and use the past tense if you want to use this type of construction.
For all three examples, the present sounds perfectly fine:
and they have pretty much the same meaning as your given sentences. The future is not allowed:
Also, the present progressive doesn't work:
This gives evidence that the first alternative given 'It's time we ate' is not really the past but is more likely a vestigial past subjunctive form.
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