When the action in a noun clause happens in the future, which tense should I use in the noun clause?

Are the tenses different in meaning if they are all grammatically correct when used in the clause? If yes, shed light on it, thanks a lot!

Here are two examples explaining my questions.

Example 1:

(The son is going to have a adventure to somewhere far away.)

Father talking to the son: Hey, son, when you come back, tell me what you see / saw / will see / will have seen in the journey.

Example 2:

(I am about to go study overseas.)

I talking to mom: Mom, when I come home, I will share with you what I learn / learned / will learn / will have learned overseas.

1 Answer 1


Use the simple past:

Hey, son, when you come back, tell me what you saw.

Mom, when I come home, I will share with you what I learned.

The reasoning is that the object of the main clause is already stated to be in the future by the "when ..." clause. Therefore in the context of the object clause, the events will have happened in the past.

Also, "on the journey" is more idiomatic than "in."

  • Why not will have seen because the action has not begun at the time of speaking
    – Yves Lefol
    Jul 4, 2019 at 16:02
  • @user5577 that's just not how English tenses work in this case. The object clause containing this verb is "set" in the future and in that future what you saw/learned has already happened. I'm afraid I can't give a better explanation myself - I realize other languages work differently!
    – TypeIA
    Jul 4, 2019 at 16:11
  • @user5577: The "explanation" as to why we use a "past" tense in the cited is because at the projected future time, what the son will be telling / sharing will be in the past, from his point of view at that future time. But note that it would also be fine to use a Perfect form (what you have seen, what I have learned). And perhaps that could be seen as a "better" tense choice, because it implies a contextually relevant strong relationship between the past seeing / learning and the chronologically more recent "present in the future" time when the son conveys his info. Jul 4, 2019 at 16:39
  • (Native speakers normally avoid convoluted forms like what I will have seen. But that doesn't mean they're syntactically invalid; we just don't use them much.) Jul 4, 2019 at 16:42
  • Obligatory Douglas Adams excerpt involving convoluted tenses when time traveling. Note, these tenses are fictional, not real English tenses: this excerpt is meant as humor.
    – TypeIA
    Jul 4, 2019 at 16:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .