Esoteric grammar question (verb tenses) of no significant consequence

Three sentences, my question is about the third one.

First sentence, no issue here. Let’s say that the background is that I travel on business and had no travel plans for yesterday, although I was later requested to come. Conditional past tense (or something) used to talk about an event in the past.

  1. I would not have been here yesterday but I was called at the last minute.

Now let’s say something similar about now:

  1. I would not have been here today but I was called at the last minute.

Now we’re using the same tense to talk about the present. I think this is still OK because it’s conditional for something that isn’t actually true (like saying, “If I were king I would…”). (Is this indeed OK?)

Now let’s make one more change. I’m talking to someone at tomorrow’s destination. I had not been planning to be there but I just got a call, so I will be going there.

  1. I would not have been there tomorrow but I was just called to go.

Now I’m confused about what is the right way to say this. We are using past tense for a time in the future and that just doesn’t seem right to me. But I can’t figure out a better way to say this.

Is this third sentence grammatically correct? If not, what is the correct way to say this?

The way you say it implies that you’re viewing the events from a future point in time. I don’t think it’s incorrect, but any time you can cut down on verbosity without losing meaning, you should.

Why not say “I would not be there tomorrow but I was just called to go.”?

Or “I was not planning to be there tomorrow but I was just called to go.”?

I think it would be clearer to say “I would not have planned to attend the meeting tomorrow if I had not been called to do so.”

Since this is an esoteric question, and not a practical one, I am interested in understanding how these tenses work, and not the best way to express the thought. I am looking for the correct tense to suggest that there is an event tomorrow that I didn’t plan on occurring, but due to a change it will in fact occur.

Some linguist will be along with a better explanation, but I have noted we don’t always use the tense or mood that logic would indicate. E.g. “I am going to the movies this weekend.” The tense is present progressive but the event will transpire in the future. I think it’s because in the imagination of the speaker, it’s happening. At the moment it’s uttered, the speaker imagines himself at the theater and uses the present tense.

Just the type of OP I love most.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, and I’m in the middle of moving, which means all my reference books are boxed and stashed. But if nobody comes along with a well researched answer soon, I’ll try to dig through my stuff.

Despite their similar appearance, the subjunctive mood is not the same thing as the past tense (or any tense). If you intended that as a reference to something in the present (as opposed to something earlier in the day), you should say “I would not be here today, but I was called at the last minute.”.

I’m not quite sure what the proper grammar would be for the one tomorrow, though.

Is this an example of a conditional or a subjunctive? There’s no conditional clause there that I see.

Anyhow, I would write:

I wasn’t going to be there tomorrow, but I was just called to go.

Past tense inplied by present tense… :confused:

Bumped to answer the question (within three months, and within GQ):

Right. No issue here.

It’s technically okay, but grammatically you’re using the past form there with the “would have” construction.

Future: “I would be there tomorrow.”

Present: “I would be there today.”

Past: “I would have been there yesterday/today.”

In this example, you’re using the past form to describe today’s actions. But it’s clear by implication, because you’re obviously describing the fact that you had to physically move yourself to “here” at some time in the past. That is, your statement is obviously expressing the idea that “I would not have come here today.”

But of course the present form “I would not be here today” is fully correct as well.

No, this time it isn’t grammatically correct.

“I would not be there tomorrow” is the future form (see: Cambridge Grammar of the English language, pages 751-752).

Formally speaking, what we’ve got is the main clause (the matrix clause, the apodosis) with an implied subordinate clause (or protasis*). The conditional construction is both clauses together.

Contemporary analysis does not use the term “subjunctive” for these types of conditional constructions.

*Formally speaking, the protasis excludes the word “if”, which is classified as a “preposition” nowadays. But this is off topic.

The third sentence definitely passes the native speaker test, so it seems a little silly to call it incorrect. It looks very similar to a future perfect construction, although it’s clearly not one.

It doesn’t pass this native speaker’s test. It sounds stilted and wrong to me.

I’m generally willing to allow variation (because, hey, the language works that way), but I just can’t see the third sentence as correct, and I’ve found no cites that say otherwise. If you’ve got a reputable cite, whether it’s a syntactic analysis or first-hand evidence of its common use in professionally edited publications, then I’d certainly be willing to change my view here. But right now, I don’t see that as the case.

I hadn’t planned to be there tomorrow but I was just called to go …
hadn’t planned = Past Perfect, used to indicate a situation in the past BEFORE another situation in the past to whit was called = Past Simple, passive. Using the different verb forms gives you the sequence of events.

If you want to keep a conditional idea I’d swap the “be” as your main verb - I wouldn’t have been there tomorrow - for “go” as your main verb in a different form :
I wouldn’t have been going there tomorrow but I was just called to go.

We often use “be going to” to talk about plans or intentions -
I was going to call you yesterday (but I forgot) = past intention
I’m going to check this thread later = present intention

I started my posting career here (and took my screen name in self-deprecation) over a grammar post. I’ve been reluctant to go down that road very many times since because it becomes so tedious to explain why anything is “correct” in the first place. Read all my past posts if you want to see why I am right. :wink:

The thing you are talking about here (you have already been called) always occurs in the past. The first part of the construction stays the same because of this.

Not only is your third sentence grammatically correct, it’s also clear. It is the easiest way to answer a specific question: Would you have been there tomorrow if you had not been called?

In any case, the requirement to constrain yourself to a prescriptivist approach should only arise when the polloi screw up clear meaning, or make the language so fluid it evolves too fast to retain clear meaning, or when I say so. I disagree with Kendall Jackson that the third sentence sounds stilted and wrong, efforts at speaking “formally” notwithstanding. This is one of those times when applying assorted rules that have been developed ex post facto to the language itself end up being gibberish.

Well, I’ll be damned. You’re right. I looked up conditionals in my book originally, but now I’m looking at the verb chapter (the lexical index is pretty crappy, so I had to flip through it by hand), and here it is:

“If they had gone tomorrow, they would have met her son.”

A perfect sentence with a “doubly remote interpretation”. So there you have it. All three sentences are grammatically correct.