I was taking an English test, and the sentence was : "The barrage would be used whenever an exceptional tide ... forecast."

a) was b) is and I don't remember c) and d).

I went for b), however the answer indicated by the website was a). It just seems weird to me to say "was" in this sentence, could you confirm that the real answer is "was" ? Thanks

  • 2
    Normally, it would be idiomatic to use was for your context - where would be used specifically refers to (habitual) action in the past. But I think if would referred to a hypothetical future (as in an engineer explaining what his barrage would be used for, if the city council backed his proposal to build it), it wouldn't be ridiculous to use is. – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '18 at 18:02
  • I wish I could back myself up with citations and make an answer out of is, but let me give two examples, "He would eat lots of candy when he was younger" and "He would eat lots of candy when he is younger". Do you see how the latter sentence sounds wrong? – Dispenser Mar 1 '18 at 19:57
  • 1
    There was a barrage across the Elbonus in the late 20th Century. The barrage would be used whenever an exceptional tide was forecast. But it failed in 1986 due to rising sea-levels. // A barrage across the Freedonus has been suggested. The barrage would be used whenever an exceptional tide is forecast. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 2 '18 at 0:29
  • @Dispenser As FumbleFingers's comment suggests, the distinction is really between your first example and something like "He would eat less candy when he is older". Was suits the former and is suits the latter. – Lawrence Mar 2 '18 at 1:52
  • Thanks for your answers, I understand now. What I didn't understand was that the sentence is at the past tense. I thought the barrage was still used. – J-eu Mar 2 '18 at 7:45

Whenever signals the habitual aspect, i.e., an action repeated either still in the present or no longer. In your case, the barrage is apparently no longer in use, so the first clause is cast in the past habitual.

The is + something, regardless of the rest of the verb phrase, must be in some form of the present tense, but since all this repeated action took place in the past, that choice can be readily eliminated.

For the clause after whenever, the vast majority of writers will use the simple past:

The barrage would be used whenever an exceptional tide was forecast.

A Google NGram querying for whenever he would go and whenever he went yielded only a few hits for extending the use of the past habitual after whenever, even when the whenever-clause opens the sentence.

You can read more about the various ways English signals the habitual aspect here.

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