Means of Expressing Future Actions Viewed from the Past

§ 51. English has some special forms to express future actions if
they are viewed from some moment in the past. The most common
of these means is the Future-in-the-Past, which, like the Future,

has the following forms: the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past, the Future Continuous-in-the-Past, and the Future Perfect-in-the-Past.

1) The Future Indefinite-in-the-Past is an analytical form
which is built up by means of the auxiliary verbs should (for the
first person, singular and plural) and would (for the second and
third persons, singular and plural) and the infinitive of the notion-
al verb without the particle to (e.g. / said I should do it. I said he
would do it,
etc.). In present-day English there is a tendency to use
would for all the persons. Besides, the difference in the use of

should and would disappears altogether in spoken English where
the contracted form 'd is used with all the persons (e.g. / said I'd
to it. I said he'd do it,
etc.). In negative sentences the particle not
в placed after the auxiliaries should and would with which it often
forms the contractions shouldn't and wouldn't (e.g. I said I should
not (shouldn't) do it. I said he would not (wouldn't) do it,

The use of the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past is structurally de-
pendent: mainly found in object clauses after one of the past fi-
mite forms in the principal clause. 1

e.g. At twenty I did not know whether any woman would love me

with her whole heart.

I felt that further conversation with Dave would be unprofit-
able at that moment.
He was sure I should get the job.

The Future Indefinite-in-the-Past expresses the time of the ac-
tion relatively (see "Verbs", § 54), i.e. with regard to a given past
moment the action of the subordinate clause follows that of the
Principal clause.

2) The Future Continuous-in-the-Past is an analytical form
which is built up by means of the auxiliary verb to be in the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past and the ing-form of the notional verb


1 It can be used in all types of clauses in which the rules of the sequence of tenses
are observed.

(e.g. / said I should be seeing him often soon. I said he would be
seeing her often soon,
etc.). In negative sentences the particle not
is placed after the first auxiliary (e.g. I said I should not be see-
ing him often now. I said he would not be seeing her often now,
etc.). In spoken English the contracted form 'd is used in affirma-
tive sentences and the forms shouldn't and wouldn't in negative

The Future Continuous-in-the-Past generally serves to show
that an action which is future from a definite past moment, is ex-
pected to take place in the natural course of events. Like the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past, it is also structurally dependent and
is mainly found in object clauses.

e.g. Towards the end of May he had a letter from Rosalind, in
which she said that she would soon be announcing her en-
gagement to Ralph Udal.

He said he would be seeing her that evening at the Atkinsons.

I felt that in a moment we should be talking soberly like two
old acquaintances.

It should be noted that the application of the Future Con
tinuous-in-the-Past is infrequent.

3) The Future Perfect-in-the-Past (should/would have done)
denotes an action completed before a definite moment which is fu-
ture from the point of view of the past. But the form hardly ever
occurs in English as it is seldom required by the situation.

e.g. I was afraid that he would have started off by the time I got
to the coast.

§ 52. In addition to the Future-in-the-Past there are other means
of expressing future actions from the point of view of the past.

1) The Past Continuous is used to express a future-in-the-past
action which is definitely settled. The action is expected to take
place soon after a definite past moment. The time of its realiza-
tion is often, though not necessarily, indicated in the sentence by
means of adverbial modifiers.

e.g. In the pocket of his dinner-jacket was a letter from Annette.

She was coming back in a fortnight.
The last time I saw him, he said he was going on the stage.

2) To be to + infinitive, which is usually treated as a modal
phrase, serves, like the Past Continuous, to indicate a previous
arrangement, but in addition to that meaning it generally implies
obligation resulting from that arrangement.

e.g. I've still got the letter. I was to post it. But of course later I

He was beside himself with excitement because his book was
to be published next month.

"To be to + infinitive" may also serve to express orders or in-
structions (mainly in reported speech).

e.g. I had already impressed upon her that she was not to men-
tion my name to him.


There was a special order that no one was to come to the sta-
tion to see the battalion off.

When it denotes a future action viewed from the past, "to be
to +
infinitive" may acquire the meaning of something destined to
happen. (This meaning is not found with "to be to + infinitive"
when it is used with reference to the actual future.)

e.g. And then came the offer of the research which was to occupy

so much of his working life.
At that time I did not know what was to become of me.

3) To be going to + infinitive may have two different meanings:
a) Premeditated intention, which means that the person denot-
ed by the subject had been planning for some time to perform the
action, that some preparation for the action had been in progress.

This use of the "going-to form" is chiefly found in object clauses.

e.g. Finn said he was going to write a letter to his uncle in Ireland.
I told George what I was going to say to the Committee.

It is noteworthy that the Past tense of the "going-to form"
may, however, be structurally independent, when it occurs in in-
dependent sentences. In this case, in addition to premeditated in-
tention, it denotes that the action was not carried out, i.e. the
person indicated by the subject was prevented from carrying out
his intention.

e.g. He was going to meet you himself, only his car was stolen.
It's your birthday, Stan. I was going to keep it a secret until


b) The speaker's feeling that the action was unavoidable, that
it was imminent. This use of the "going-to form" is mainly found
in reported speech.

e.g. If only we knew what was going to happen.

You always thought I was going to die, didn't you?

I knew he was going to regret the day he had ever written

that letter.

4) The Past Indefinite may be used in two different cases
which are both structurally dependent:

a) With reference to a future action viewed from the past in
clauses of time, condition and concession (in accordance with the
rules of the sequence of tenses),
e.g. So when Anna was leaving for France I said to her vaguely

that I would look her up when she returned.
Probably she knew that whatever happened he would not

give her away.
I told him if he didn't hurry up he'd get no breakfast.

Note. In clauses other than those of time, condition and concession, the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past is used even if these clauses are introduced by the con-
junctions when and if.

e.g. I asked him if he would stay another week with us.

The time would come when they would all be proud of Tony.

b) In object clauses after one of the past tenses of to see (-= to
attend), to take care or to make sure in the principal clause.

e.g. He knew that Rosalind would see that it did not happen.
Mother took care that I held myself well.

§ 53. To sum it up, it should be mentioned that though the use
of the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past, in theory, is similar to that
of the Future Indefinite, its use is actually much wider. The use of
the other means of expressing future actions viewed from the past
is, on the contrary, much more restricted than the use of the
same means with reference to the real future.

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