I happened to imagine this particular situation, which is quite unreal. But I am curious how we use verb tenses to describe the situation.

Let's say I am future teller. I can tell the future. One day I write down what my girlfriend will say two days in the future. And I tell this to my friend one day later.

I know it is confusing. Let me put it in a simple way like this.

5/24 - Me writing down the words my girlfriend will say on 5/26.

5/25 - Me telling to my friend about the prophecy.

5/26 - The date when my girlfriend says what I have predicted.

My question is here: the conversation happens on 5/25.

  1. Me: Hey, mate. Yesterday I wrote down what my girlfriend will say.
  2. Me: Hey, mate. Yesterday I wrote down what my girlfriend would say.

Which one is correct?

  • 2
    They are both correct. It depends on your point of view. It will still happen in the future, but from the perspective of the past, it was a vision of the future and what would (and did) happen. May 25, 2020 at 5:20
  • 1
    A person who can (supposedly) see the future is a fortune teller.
    – TypeIA
    May 25, 2020 at 6:28
  • 2
    This reminds me of a joke by Douglas Adams in one of the hitchhiker's books. The main difficulty with time travel is grammar heretical.com/miscella/hhg-2.html
    – James K
    May 25, 2020 at 9:02
  • 1
    @JamesK Very fitting on Towel Day :)
    – TypeIA
    May 25, 2020 at 16:35

2 Answers 2


(Yesterday) I wrote down what she will say (tomorrow).

There is a misconception sometimes expressed here that subordinate clauses in a sentence must have the same tense as the main clause. This is often the case, but it is not a grammatical rule, just that, usually the time referred to in the subordinate clause is the same as in the main clause.

But there are plenty of examples where this is not true, and the "fortuneteller" example is one example.

Using "would" is also possible, but this suggests some condition that is unspoken or implied:

... what she would say tomorrow [ if ...]

You can also use other future constructions

... what she is going to say
... what she says when she first sees me tomorrow.

  • I am still a bit puzzled about the structure you provided: ... what she would say tomorrow [ if ...]. My take on this (me talking to my friend on 5/25): I wrote down what my girlfriend would say if I came home late tomorrow (tomorrow means 5/26) . Does this example represent your idea? Is ok to use "will" instead of "would" in this case? Oh yes, just found that "came" a bit fishy here. Yep, my mind is a mess now, would you expand on the idea more?
    – vincentlin
    May 26, 2020 at 7:03
  • 1
    "What she will say" is a firm prediction of the future. "What she would say" is a conditional. But in the context of your original question, use "will".
    – James K
    May 26, 2020 at 8:34
  • Thank you, and sorry to bother you again. How about the example in my lsat comment: Yesterday (yesterday means 5/24), I wrote down what my girlfriend "would" say if I "came" home late tomorrow (tomorrow means 5/26). In this case, should the word be "came" or "come"? Is "will" or "would" correct in this case?
    – vincentlin
    May 26, 2020 at 9:30

Considering the grammatical timeline set by the main verb (past tense), the choice of “would” could be better, due to the corresponding verb tense agreement. Besides, “I wrote down what my girlfriend would say” could mean talking about the future in the past, and the usage of the word “would” seems more appropriate.

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