3

I just asked a friend: "What if we met tomorrow?" My girlfriend called me out on it and says it should be: "What if we meet tomorrow?" In my head both sound fine, but I know I couldn't say: "Could we met tomorrow?", so I'm starting to doubt myself. It does seem strange to use the past tense "met" to describe a future event, so is it technically wrong?

Thanks in advance :)

2
  • For examples where the verb is in present tense: "What if it rains?", "What if you join us for lunch?", "What if they are illiterate?" -- examples borrowed from 1985 Quirk et al., pages 840-1, section 11.40.
    – F.E.
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 1:18
  • 2
    There might be some differences between the two versions: "What if we met tomorrow?" and "What if we meet tomorrow?" Perhaps someone could address that issue in an answer post.
    – F.E.
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 1:30

6 Answers 6

5

A sentence beginning with "What if" introduces a sense of hypothesis, assumption, or condition, which doesn't reflect the current reality.

This construction follows the rule of conditional clause, in which the verb is in the simple past.

Other examples:

What if it rained? Would you still go ahead with your plan?
What if you won a lottery? Would you still keep your job?

In your situation, you could also ask: "How about meeting tomorrow?" or "Could we meet tomorrow?"

NOTE: The answer addresses OP's concern that what he said could be incorrect, which is not. "What if we meet..." isn't wrong either. It may be a suggestion or invitation.

3
  • A lot of it is natural or spontaneous, though the rules of grammar may not be obvious.
    – Sankarane
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 0:52
  • Grammar tense and time referred to do not always correspond. We can make an assumption with high probability with future perfect: The thief will have entered the house in the night/at night. But we refer to an event in the past and not in the future.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 4:52
  • @rogermue: Your example does not refer to the entry of the thief in the past. It implies future action, completed "by" a certain time. That's why it takes future perfect tense.
    – Sankarane
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 15:21
3

Both "What if we met tomorrow" and "What if we meet tomorrow" are idiomatic English. The former is hypothetical (and contains the idea of "What would happen if we met tomorrow?"). The latter is closer to a suggestion.

-1

Shall we meet tomorrow? This would the most appropriate question. Meet is the present tense of the verb so you only use met when you are talking about a meeting that already happened

-1

I was made to understand that the word "if" which brings in the "conditional" aspect permits the use of past tense in the verb, even if the event is supposedly in the future.

1
  • It would improve the answer if you could include a source for this rule. Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 9:13
-2
  • Shall we meet tomorrow then?
  • What if we met on Thursday instead?
  • How about we meet this Friday?
1
  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question originally posed: is using the past verb form grammatically incorrect?
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 22:35
-2

It is illogical to use"met" to represent an event which is to occur in future. It is more plausible to say as under without being incorrect grammatically.

Can we meet tomorrow?

"What if we met tomorrow " is not the right expression and should be avoided.

1
  • How do you feel about the phrasing "How would it be if we met tomorrow?" Same objection?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 5:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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