Is it in any way different from We should stop talking now? Of course the sentence structure is different, but do they imply the same thing?


This is a form of the subjunctive, where the ongoing action does not jibe with the required|wished-for action. To reflect this discrepancy between reality and requirement|wish, the tense shifts to the past, stopped. The time has come when we should not be talking.


In the US, we have both forms of this call-to-action: "It's time we stop talking, and take action..." and "It's time we stopped talking, and took action.". I think in England there's only the latter form (if Google ngram for time we stop talking is to be relied upon). The time we stop talking form seems to have had an interesting history in the US, spiking in the early 1940s, then fading away to nothing in the 1950s, and then spiking again in the 1960s.

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    I don't think it is subjunctive, because with BE in the first person singular we cannot use 'were': It's time I was in bed". – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 11:49
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    It may look like it, but it can't be, or we'd say "It's time he were in bed". We don't normally do this, as Huddleston & Pullum (Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002.1004) and Quirk et al (Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, (1985.1013) confirm. – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 12:07
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    Englishmen used to say (and in some local dialects they still do say) "It's time I were...". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 27 '14 at 13:02
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 13:07
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    "we stopped talking" is past subjunctive. As to the past subjunctive of to be I were* (the asterisk is meant to show the subjunctive) this form is often replaced by was*. You can say I wish father were* here or I wish father was* here. In almost all cases past subjunctive has the same form as past indicative. There is only one form where we have two different forms: I/he were* and I/he was. And as almost all subjunctive forms are the same form as indicative were* in colloquial speech is replaced by was. But in I wish father was* here the form was* has the value of a subjunctive. – rogermue Oct 27 '14 at 13:59

The hypothetical past indicative is used after "It's (high) time (that) ..." with present-time reference. It is indeed similar in meaning to "We should ...".

  • That's a queer theory, your "hypothetical past indicative". I would say it is a contradiction. An indicative indicates reality. There is no hypothetical indicative. But I would be interested to hear where this theory comes from. – rogermue Oct 27 '14 at 20:49
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    As I noted in my comment on another answer, both Huddleston & Pullum and Quirk et al say that we do not say "It's time I/he were in bed" but"It's time I/he was in bed". 'Was' is indicative. In that 'I/he' is not in bed at the time of the utterance, it seems not unreasonable to think of this as a hypothetical statement. Quirk et al specifically say "... hypothetical past or indicative form replace subjunctive 'were'". H & P say of It "is time you were in bed" that it is "straightforwardly counterfactual... but it hardly allows an irrealis 'It is time I were in bed'". – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 21:27
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    Even if it is from Huddleston & Pullum and Quirk the hypothetical indicative is a very queer theory that doesn't hold water. And have you verified that one can't say It's time you were* in bed? Maybe it isn't said today, but in older texts I think you would find such subjunctive forms. There seems to be a misconception even among grammariens. – rogermue Oct 27 '14 at 21:39
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    "It's time you were in bed" is fine. We are talking about "It's time I/he were in bed". H & P do say that they found 'a rare attested example', but one swallow doesn't make a summer. As for the hypothetical indicative not holding water, please come up with a more convincing idea. There is a great deal of evidence, for speakers of British English at least, the past subjunctive does not exist. H & P write (p88): "The distinction between 'was' and 'were' [...] is not sufficient to justify generalising a mood system to all verbs". – tunny Oct 27 '14 at 21:52
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    Sorry, I should have written It's time I were* /was* in bed. Contrary to Hudlum I think there is a past subjunctive identical to past indicative for all verbs as irreal conditions with if show. If you or Hudlum would look to German you would see that wir kamen and wir kämen* are very similar and that both forms in English can become came. And it is clear that in English the use of came* is limited to special types of sentences otherwise there would be confusion. German weak verbs generally have identical forms for past ind. and past subj., but the sense for the subj. form is not lost. – rogermue Oct 27 '14 at 22:08

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