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  1. #1
    cubezero3's Avatar
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    Default Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Hello, everyone.

    This question arose while I was listening to my Friends audio book. In an episode, Joey's agent gets him an opportunity to become Al Pacino's butt double. Joey is quite excited. One morning, Joey rushes to ask Monica whether he can borrow something from her. To which, she replied:"OK. Go into the bathroom, use whatever you want and, just, don't ever tell me what you did in there." The context has made it very clear to me that Monica doesn't want to know what Joey will do with her stuff.

    Is this usage colloquial, or people can also use it in written form?

    Thanks

    Richard

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    She is saying, " Donīt tell me in the future (5 minutes from now or 5 years from now) what you did when you were in my bathroom."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Quote Originally Posted by riquecohen View Post
    She is saying, " Donīt tell me in the future (5 minutes from now or 5 years from now) what you did when you were in my bathroom."
    Hello, riquecohen.

    I can understand that if Joey has entered the bathroom and has done what ever he wished before he says so.

    Then nothing has happened yet, when Joey says so. What she doesn't know hasn't happened. She's talking about things that are going to happen.


    That's why I was confused in the first place.

    Thanks

    Richard

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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Quote Originally Posted by cubezero3 View Post
    Hello, riquecohen.

    I can understand that if Joey has entered the bathroom and has done what ever he wished before he says so.

    Then nothing has happened yet, when Joey says so. What she doesn't know hasn't happened. She's talking about things that are going to happen.


    That's why I was confused in the first place.

    Thanks

    Richard

    But in the future, the time she is talking about when he might *try* to tell her, the actions he took will be in the past, so she uses the past tense to describe them.

    It's confusing, I know.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Indeed, Tullia.

    Now I have simple past tense which I can use to refer to a future action, in addition to present tenses and future tenses. The names of these tenses really mislead me in this case.

    I guess it's equally right to say don't ever tell me what you do in there or don't ever tell me what you will do in there as well, isn't it?

    Thanks

    Richard

  6. #6
    Tullia's Avatar
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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Quote Originally Posted by cubezero3 View Post
    Indeed, Tullia.

    Now I have simple past tense which I can use to refer to a future action, in addition to present tenses and future tenses. The names of these tenses really mislead me in this case.

    I guess it's equally right to say don't ever tell me what you do in there or don't ever tell me what you will do in there as well, isn't it?

    Thanks

    Richard

    They both sound OK, I suppose, but I prefer the version Monica actually said as it's more precise, it's clear that the bathroom visit is a one-off event.

    don't ever tell me what you do in there
    This simple present could also be used for a repeated action such as if he visits the bathroom every day and is still visiting it daily when she happens to say this, and so I think there's potential for confusion if you use it.


    don't ever tell me what you will do in there
    This doesn't sound very natural. Perhaps "don't ever tell me what you are going to do in there" is slightly more natural to my ear?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Can past tense be used to describe future action?

    Now I've understood it. Your explanation is very clear.

    Thank you very much, Tullia.

    Richard

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