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  1. It is time we went home. [means , it is time for us to go home]

  2. It is high time we left. [it is proper time for us to leave ]

So which grammar rule apply here.

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  • Do you mean it's the time (that) we went home?
    – Cardinal
    Sep 25, 2017 at 13:48
  • @Cardinal - I don't know about your dialect, but in mine, Sentence #1 is perfectly normal and common as it is.
    – stangdon
    Sep 25, 2017 at 14:02
  • Neither of these sentences is actually past tense. I personally don't know what this grammar is called but certain English suggestions or imperatives can be shifted to the past tense, for example: "I think you should go" -> "It would be better if you went." Also the "It is" is not really the simple present either. "It is" acts as a placeholder and has no real meaning.
    – Andrew
    Sep 25, 2017 at 14:06
  • Possible duplicate of "It's time something was / were done about the problem." Sep 25, 2017 at 17:07
  • 1
    Also see ell.stackexchange.com/questions/90398/… and three linked questions there Sep 25, 2017 at 17:08

1 Answer 1

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The subjunctive mode in English is a mess -- so much so that the very label "subjunctive" has fallen out of fashion.  And yet, I find that I can't explain how English works without using that label. 

The subordinate clauses "[that] we went home" and "[that] we left" are not indicative statements in these sentences.  They are subjunctive propositions.  They are less related to the world as it is than the world as it might be, could be or should be.*  They are, in fact, counter-factual: We haven't left, even though it's high time to do so.  Had we left and gone home, those sentences would no longer make sense.

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* The forms "might", "could" and "should" are the past-tense forms of the modal auxiliaries "may", "can" and "shall", despite the fact that they rarely represent the past tense.  The sentence "it's time we should leave" expresses much the same present-tense sentiment as "it's time we left", although "it's time we left" is less specific.  It might also mean "it's time we could leave" or "it's time we must leave".

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