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I know that usually it should be "It's high time someone did something."

However, what about "the past perfect"? Is it possible to use? If yes, when should it be done and for what effect?

"It's high time someone had done something."

Here are examples from literature:

It was high time he had written, Dick thought; it was high time he had come.

Lieutenant Stewart replied, in substance, that the British officers had too long trampled on the rights and liberties of his countrymen, and it was high time they had learned to respect the rights and persons of an independent nation.

I told him, it was high time he had ended the course he was pursuing.

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    These all have past tense It was high time (that) .., not present tense It's. Naturally, if the present form requires a past tense in its complement, a past form requires a past perfect tense in its complement. In each case, the complement refers to a time that is before the time referred to in the main clause. May 21, 2020 at 15:44
  • Yes, but it's also possible not to use "past perfect" there. It's also OK to say "It was high time he WROTE, Dick thought; it was high time he CAME." So, there is a difference.
    – user1425
    May 21, 2020 at 16:14
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    No, there's no difference, except that one can use either form. I.e, one can follow either rule; most grammar rules overlap considerably, and it's speakers' choice. May 21, 2020 at 16:20
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    I just want to say, I like the literal phrase it's high time you past perfect something. It has an interesting meta feel to it. I read the title of the question, discounting the placeholder use until I read the first sentence of the question itself, and thought the question was actually going to turn out to be something different. May 21, 2020 at 16:55
  • The extracts are both probably from pre-20th century writing: the second is from 1838, and express a (subjunctive?) "should have".
    – Greybeard
    Oct 15, 2021 at 10:17

3 Answers 3

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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

These all have past tense It was high time (that) .., not present tense It's. Naturally, if the present form requires a past tense in its complement, a past form requires a past perfect tense in its complement. In each case, the complement refers to a time that is before the time referred to in the main clause.

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  • The past perfect sounds so wrong, though. When speaking in the present tense, both past and present seem to be possible, or even subjunctive. "It's high time that you stopped smoking." "It's high time that you stop smoking." "It's high time that somebody say something to him about his smoking habit." I'm not sure about this last subjunctive option. In any case, given the availability of the present form, the past perfect seems a bit indulgent. Just my own reaction. Would be interested in a real answer!
    – cruthers
    Aug 24, 2021 at 0:57
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The use of did in this context has nothing to do with a 'past' tense. It is a modal use, to indicate something that relates to the future but as not actual. There is something, in this case, that needs doing by a person showing no sign of doing anything at all. This usage is found also in conditional sentences, as in

If you did what you are threatening, you would soon regret it.

'did' in both contexts is modal and refers to the future rather than the past.

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  • Here's the issue: you can say "if you had done X," but you can't say "it's high time someone had done X."
    – alphabet
    Feb 8, 2023 at 0:27
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It's high time someone had done something.

The problem here is less one of syntax and more one of semantics. It's rather like saying:

He has an opportunity to have gotten the job.

The issue is that you can't recommend a course of action if that course of action needed to occur in the past; in your example sentence, you're essentially instructing someone to have already completed an action, which makes no sense.

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