The sentence that I have a problem with:

The clock was showing 12:30, which meant it was about time I start getting dressed up and leaving.

More specifically, it is this bolded dependent clause that is bugging me. Clearly, the sentence speaks of a past event, and the dependent clause is describing "time". The time was in the past, so it would make sense that we describe it using past tense... right? So it would be:

"... it was about time I started getting ... "

But I'm not aware of any rules about this. I don't know which one is correct. Maybe they're both correct but have different meanings? Which one is correct?

1 Answer 1


The ordinary construction of this idiom calls for a past-tense form of the verb which heads the complement clause regardless of the tense of the matrix verb:

It is now about time I started getting dressed.
It was then about time I started getting dressed.
It will then be time I started getting dressed.

The reason for this is obscure; my best guess is that the past-tense form is a "modally remote" use. I note that should start is also acceptable here, and would probably be more natural with a future-tense matrix clause.

Your sentence is complicated by the presence of two parallel complements to START, one headed by getting and the other by leaving, and it's sort of odd to speak of starting to get dressed and then starting to leave—apparently you're planning to depart when you're only half-dressed! I suspect what you mean would be better expressed with infinitivals:

It was about time I started to get dressed and leave.

Dress up, by the way, is not quite the same thing as dress: to dress is to put your clothes on, to dress up is to put a costume on.

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