I usually say "When was the last time...?", but I came across this conversation. So I wonder which one is correct: is, was or either.

Henry: I was on the phone for an hour.
Ron: Who were you talking to for an hour?
Henry: Sam, an old friend from college.
Ron: When is the last time you talked to him?
Henry: At college graduation!
Ron: Wow! That was 30 years ago!
Henry: We had a lot of catching up to do.

Source: http://www.talkenglish.com/conversation/practice/catching-up-with-a-friend


3 Answers 3


Both are correct, although there's a bit of room for discussion.

The last time you spoke to him is obviously in the past, but it is in the past now. So when is the last time is correct.

However, the last time you spoke to him was a time before now. Therefore, When was the last time is also correct.

When was the last time is presently used much more often, as this nGram view shows. Interestingly, neither shows up much before 1960, when what was the last time was more popular, and what is the last time was non-existent.


Popular usage does not make bad grammar correct!

If the event refers to the past then use the correct auxiliary verb; "When was the last time...?"

English Grammar allows the Present Tense to be used when speaking about a Future Event when that event is a certain to happen. Example: Question: What are you doing tonight? Answer: I'm washing my hair. (It is certain).

But English grammer does not allow the same grammatical-freedom in the Present Tense when speaking about a Past Event.

I repeat, popular usage does not make bad grammar correct!

  • Can you back up your answer with links to your research? Plenty of grammatically incorrect phrases or sentences are used in spoken language and in literature with particular purposes. So you can't be that categorical.
    – fev
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 14:03
  • 1
    "What is the time at which the past event occurred?" seems allowable to me, although less common than the past tense. After all, the time of the past event is that time now as well as then. Even in your own answer, you mention an event that "refers" to the past. So, "this event refers to the past. What is the time in the past to which the event refers?"
    – BobRodes
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 7:18

Great discussion!

So I was the phrase ‘When’s the last time you got lucky?’ on a billboard.

This sparked my curiosity because I thought it was incorrect to use the contraction for when was, and based on the definition for when’s you have to use When is the last time you got lucky, not when was the last time you got lucky.

Therefore, both should be allowed in speech or either you can’t use the contraction and we know it to be used this way quite often…

Funny thing about grammar- it seems to be ignored ignored more often when speaking than when writing…

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