Watching a tv-series I saw this line :

1- "I always wanted to be there when they execute your sister" (Context: The owner of this line now believes the execution to be a small chance.)

I suppose using past simple could be correct because of sequence of tenses .

2- I always wanted to be there when they executed your sister. (But when I write executed, it seems little awkward to me because execution hasn't been done yet. I think using past simple imply as if execution has occured.)

So which sentence is correct in this particular context?


In terms of Time, the Past Simple describes Not Present, ie... Finished Time. The Present Simple refers to Present Reality.

(Here I am ignoring the other 2 distances of Probability and Formality, just the distance of Time).


"I always wanted to be there when they execute your sister"

The WANT is in the past for a present reality of EXECUTE.

"I always wanted to be there when you drive for the first time." Here we are in the period before you actually drive.

"I always wanted to be there when you drove for the first time." Now the driving has shifted to the past, to finished time.

So you are right "executed" would mean it is in finished time. OR it is now in the distance of UNREAL. (If I were you tomorrow, I would... this is the Past for Unreal).

It means the execution is not possible. Or at least me being there is no longer possible... perhaps I am about to be executed!

If the idea of the tenses as distance is new to you here is a link look for Tense Mastery here

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  • So in this context sentence 1 is more plausible because the execution hasn't been done yet and there is still a change for it. When we use the first sentence we imply that execution is not that unlikely and still posibble in the present moment? – Talha Özden May 8 '19 at 0:23
  • Exactly. The present tense implies Real, Personal AND not past time. As soon as we talk about Unreal, Formality OR past time we use the Past tense. (there are only 2 'real' tenses in English) Note how the same fact has two different perspectives when we say "If I win the lottery" ('feels' real to speaker) or "If I won the lottery" ('feels' unreal to speaker). – EnglishAdam May 8 '19 at 8:58

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