"What if my wife were the daughter of the head of the electricity department of my district?"

"She would get the threat of divorce every time [that is, when or whenever] the electricity supply is/was cut off."

Please consider the second paragraph of my sentences. As per the rule we should use "present tense" after time clause, including "when". That would indicate using is.

But since it's a hypothetical sentence I should use "the past tense" here, shouldn't I? That would mean using was.

Which verb form is correct?

  • Your she would get looks like a "habitual action in the past" usage, so one would expect that to be paired with a past tense "time clause". Note that cut off (often, cut out) can be used intransitively in contexts such as The electricity supply cut out again last night, so your example is past tense regardless of whether was is present or not. Also note that She would cry whenever he shouts at her is not a valid utterance, because of the mixed tenses. Whether or not to include when in your example is a stylistic choice, but I wouldn't normally. Oct 29, 2016 at 15:39
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    It's really not clear whether when is actually included in your sentence or not. It shouldn't be there. Are you just using it to help explain "every time" meaning "whenever"? Oct 29, 2016 at 15:39
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    'Every time that' (often reduced to 'every time') is used, not 'every time when' (or 'whenever', as Andrew says, is used instead). Oct 29, 2016 at 15:42
  • @FumbleFingers (If she were to appoint the manager) she would be criticised every time the team lost. That looks to me a grammatically identical structure. But I don't see that she would be criticised is an "habitual action of the past". It is a normal hypothesis ensuing from an if clause. And such calls for the past-tense in the adverbial clause.
    – WS2
    Oct 29, 2016 at 16:23
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    « As per the rule we should use "present tense" after time clause, including "when" » — Who in the world taught you this utterly nonsensical ‘rule’? The presence or absence of a temporal clause is utterly unrelated to what tense you use for the main verb in a sentence. Oct 29, 2016 at 18:02

1 Answer 1


"As per the rule we should use "present tense" after time clause, including "when". But since it's a hypothetical sentence I should use "past" tense here, shouldn't I? Is my sentence correct?"

It's not a matter of rules. It never is.

The problem is fictitious in this case for "when" is redundant here, unnecessarily put in, just to complicate things. You are already stating the time, which is the cut-off time. Never mind if you are speaking hypothetically. You say "I (would) smile to her every time we (met) meet", not "I smile to her every time WHEN we meet". Likewise, you say "… every time the electricity supply (was/is) cut off", not "every time WHEN the electricity supply (was/is) cut off". So, your sentence is neither correct nor incorrect, only unreal.

A different question would be, "When I (met) meet her, I (would) smile to her every time" (or, rather more awkwardly, "I (would) smile to her every time, when I (met) meet her"), meaning you can't refrain from it, that for whatever whatever the reason you never fail to do it. That's not the case in your example.

As I said, it's never a matter of rules. It's a matter of the function the rules serve. You need to grasp it to know how to use—or not to use—the rule, or to see why it's not relevant.

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