Which one should I choose:

Don't you think it's time you tell vs told Adrea the truth?

  • 5
    Told is good here, since the statement is not factual. "It's time you" is semantically equivalent to a modal "shouldn't you really tell her the truth?!". It's a kind of exhortation, and the backshifted tense marks it as such.
    – TimR
    Sep 11, 2016 at 11:01
  • @TRomano Told works?!! strange! everything is in present time, and it is more in subjunctive mode! But, when the time is now, how he can told....I may accept, "Don't you think it was time you told Andrea the truth", but for "it is time ..." it seems strange to me!
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 11:44
  • 1
    @Ahmad Try searching for It's (high) time (that) ... Sep 11, 2016 at 12:39
  • @DamkerngT. it may idiomatically use past tense for "it's time you ..." , but I don't think there is a formal and sane grammar for that and that idiom is an exception.
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 12:49
  • @Ahmad. I must disagree with the characterization "everything is in present time". "you tell her" or "you are telling her" would be present time. But the original is semantically equivalent to "You should tell her."
    – TimR
    Sep 11, 2016 at 13:54

2 Answers 2


I would like to stop this discussion by quoting a dictionary where the usage is clearly explained.

It’s time

from English Grammar Today

We can use the expression it’s time + subject + past verb form to refer to the present moment:

Gosh! It’s almost midnight. It’s time we went home.

Not: It’s time we go home.

It’s time with a verb in the to-infinitive form can refer to the speaker and the listener together:

Come on. It’s time to start packing. We have to leave in two hours. (or It’s time we started packing.)

  • The construction refers to something that should be happening in the present moment, but isn't happening in the present moment.
    – TimR
    Sep 11, 2016 at 16:20
  • @TRomano to some extent, I understood what you mean and we also say that in Persian (again with a subjunctive mood, something like "It's almost midnight. it's time we be (were?!) slept". But to offer someone to sleep now, we use another construction, do you say also "it's time we sleep"?
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 17:31
  • To answer the question "What do you want to do now?", what is wrong with "I think it's time we go home."?
    – Peter
    Sep 12, 2016 at 4:16
  • 3
    @Peter Different speakers have different analyses of that pattern, so in real data you'll find three different forms in the that-clause: ① past ("time she learned to drive"), ② plain ("time that he be tried for his crimes"), and ③ present ("time that human society as a whole learns to do the same"). Although all three are attested, not all forms are produced or accepted by all speakers. The past is the most commonly produced and accepted form, so I recommend learners stick to it, even if the other options aren't necessarily wrong. (It's time we go home sounds fine to me.)
    – user230
    Sep 13, 2016 at 3:25

I am not a native-speaker, but I think a subjunctive mood is required.

In the case of "it's time", to offer something to do at the present time to + infinitive is used according to this answer.

But otherwise, in the case of your sentence a past subjunctive is used according to these questions and answers and it means something that should have been done at the present time but wasn't, then told as a past subjunctive is correct.



  • Contemporary speakers of "standard' English wouldn't say "Don't you think it's time he tell her..." Maybe a tiny few might.
    – TimR
    Sep 11, 2016 at 15:22
  • @JavaLatte My answer about using a subjunctive mood is not that wrong, just the other answers offer past subjunctive and I suggested present subjunctive
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 17:44
  • @TRomano could both present and past subjunctive applicable here, so I complete my answer?
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 17:45
  • @JavaLatte check my answer now!
    – Ahmad
    Sep 11, 2016 at 17:55
  • The only true past subjunctive is for be -> were. For every other verb, the past subjunctive is made using a backshift "I know that" -> "I wish I knew that", as @TRomano mentions in his initial comment. You can also backshift a simple past to make a past perfect subjunctive: "I knew that!" -> "I wish I had known that!".
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 11, 2016 at 18:09

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