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Dear teachers,

On a webqite I read that we can say "It's high time we SEND (and not SENT) him a registered letter."

whether with the expression "it's about time" we can only use the subjunctive = "It's about time you SPENT (and not SPEND) a little less money."

Is this true ? Here the explanation the person gave:

"This is another of those cases of "real" and "unreal" conditionals, which in more rational languages would be regulated by subjunctive standards. The issue is how fully the speaker expects the action to happen. If there's a real intention to send that registered letter now that the reminder has been issued, then the verb is present. If the speaker has some doubt that we'll ever get around to sending the letter after all, then the verb is past:

• "It's high time we send him a registered letter." = a plan to do something, a "real" condition for a future action.

• "It's high time we sent him a registered letter." = a regret that we haven't done something, more focus on the past non-action, and a wishful thought about the future action that may or may not take place—an "unreal" (or unsure) condition for a future action.

As for "It's about time," I can't give a grammatical reason why it never sounds right followed by the present. The explanation must be semantic: "about time" seems to move backward more, drawing in shadows of the time that's been spent already, while "high time" seems more neutral, able to be look both ways depending on the speaker's attitude. "

Do you agree?

All the best,
Hela
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Comments  
If there's a real intention to send that registered letter now that the reminder has been issued, then the verb is present. If the speaker has some doubt that we'll ever get around to sending the letter after all, then the verb is past:

• "It's high time we send him a registered letter." = a plan to do something, a "real" condition for a future action.


Isn't that just another way of saying that "should" has been omitted?

EX: It's high time that we should send him a registered letter.
It's high time we send that letter. It's time to act! We must send it!
It's high time we sent that letter. It's time to act! We must send it! We have already wasted too much time. It should have been sent already.

The second version is nearly indistinguishable from the first, in my opinion. The second may sound a bit more urgent to some. I don't relate to the "real"/"unreal" explanation. They both sound to me like "It's urgent for us to send that letter".

It's about time you spend a little less money.
It's about time you spent a little less money.

Again, I'm left puzzled by what difference there could possibly be -- just perhaps a slightly greater degree of urgency in the second.

Yet, the second may actually have two readings:

1) It's about time you spent a little less money. It is time for you to start spending a little less money.
2) It's about time you spent a little less money. I've been impatient for you to start spending a little less money. It's good to see that you have actually begun to do so. (This reading of it is "C'pas trop tôt" in French, I believe.)

There is a similar double reading to the form with the present tense, but the present tense form is less likely for the "impatience" interpretation. That is, "It's about time you spend a little less money" is a less likely utterance, reserved for occasions when the person spoken to has just at that moment shown some forbearance in spending money.

--I've checked my finances and decided not to get that new sweater I've had my eye on.
--Good idea! It's about time you spend a little less money.

Note that these observations are of such subtle linguistic phenomena that it is quite likely that other native speakers would not agree at all! I myself may not agree next week! Emotion: smile

CJ
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Dear Jim,

You said: "Yet, the second may actually have two readings:

1) It's about time you spent a little less money. It is time for you to start spending a little less money.
2) It's about time you spent a little less money. I've been impatient for you to start spending a little less money. It's good to see that you have actually begun to do so. (This reading of it is "C'pas trop tôt" in French, I believe.)

There is a similar double reading to the form with the present tense, but the present tense form is less likely for the "impatience" interpretation. That is, "It's about time you spend a little less money" is a less likely utterance, reserved for occasions when the person spoken to has just at that moment shown some forbearance in spending money. "

1) and 2) seem to be the same do you mean: 1) = senT and 2) = senD?

But what about "It WAS about time you SPENT a little less money"? Doesn't it have the meaning that "the person spoken to has just at that moment shown some forbearance in spending money"?

I look forward to hearing from you.
All the best,
Hela
Whoop! Yes, there's a mistake. I meant 1) send and 2) sent (reverse of what you guessed). My sense is that "sent" gives slightly more urgency (the idea that some action is overdue) than "send".

It was about time ... spent ...

would be the same as It is about time ... spent ... , except that the time referred to would be in the past, not the present.

So it would mean the person spoken to had then shown some forbearance ...

Take care.
Emotion: smile
and how about ... you should send?
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It's about time you should send that letter.

Hmm. I wouldn't use "should" with "It's about time ..." It's quite possible that some speakers use it, though.

For an alternate I'd say "It's (about) time for you to send that letter".

CJ
On a webqite I read that we can say "It's high time we SEND (and not SENT) him a registered letter."

whether with the expression "it's about time" we can only use the subjunctive = "It's about time you SPENT (and not SPEND) a little less money."

Is this true ? Here the explanation the person gave:

"This is another of those cases of "real" and "unreal" conditionals, which in more rational languages would be regulated by subjunctive standards.

JT: What is the author [now known as A] talking about? First, the author tells us that "in more rational languages [this] would be regulated by subjunctive standards" and then he/she notes that it is "regulated by subjunctive standards".

A: The issue is how fully the speaker expects the action to happen. If there's a real intention to send that registered letter now that the reminder has been issued, then the verb is present. If the speaker has some doubt that we'll ever get around to sending the letter after all, then the verb is past:

• "It's high time we send him a registered letter." = a plan to do something, a "real" condition for a future action.

• "It's high time we sent him a registered letter." = a regret that we haven't done something, more focus on the past non-action, and a wishful thought about the future action that may or may not take place—an "unreal" (or unsure) condition for a future action.

JT: Both forms are in common use; the only difference is one of formality. Both point to a future, as yet unperformed action, and intonation and context would let us know "how fully the speaker expects the action to happen".

There is nothing within this subjunctive structure that points to how expectant the action is. I suspect the author is confusing this subjunctive form with the irrealis forms which do show a difference in how the speaker views the situation.
http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/061.html

The present subjunctive is most familiar to us in formulaic expressions such as God help him, be that as it may, come what may, and suffice it to say. It also occurs in that clauses used to state commands or to express intentions or necessity:

We insist that he do the job properly.
The committee proposes that she be appointed treasurer immediately.
It is essential that we be informed of your plans.

Other functions include use in some conditional clauses and clauses that make concessions or express purpose. In these cases the subjunctive carries a formal tone:

Whether he be opposed to the plan or not, we must seek his opinion.
Even though he be opposed to the plan, we must try to implement it.
They are rewriting the proposal so that it not contradict new zoning laws.

The subjunctive is not required in such sentences, however, and you can use indicative forms if you prefer (whether he is opposed …).
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