what is the difference between; "what if we stop X" and "what if we stopped X"

We are trying to write an inspirational statement, not so much a question, to provoke thought around stopping X. For example "what if we stop car theft" vs "what if we stopped car theft" knowing that the audience comprises those who are trying to stop car theft.

  • Notice that, in your second example, you use what is technically the past tense. The past tense is often used in English to form a makeshift sort of subjunctive: it makes the statement withdraw from the action, creates a divide between the statement and reality. It is mostly used to denote when something is hypothetical or counterfactual. I recommend using stop if you wish to urge people to actually stop something, but stopped if the situation is 'kinda maybe something they could sorta do'.
    – Anonym
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 5:49

2 Answers 2


They're so close, and nearly interchangeable. The only difference would be this:

What if we stop X? puts the emphasis on the act of stopping X.

What if we stopped X? puts the emphasis on what happens after stopping X.

But it's really only noticeable when these two variations are juxtaposed with one another, if it's noticeable at all.


I would say it really depends on the time at which it is said, with stop being present and stopped being past.

For example, "What if we stopped the Chernobyl disaster?" is referencing an event in the past that can not be changed now, but perhaps we are asking a theoretical question.

"What if we stop Russia in Ukraine?" is in the present and is seeking proposals for actions that could be undertaken now.

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