Saturday, June 11, 2011

Future in the Past - Lesson and exercises

Future in the Past is sometimes described as 'the future seen from the past'. But it's really more like 'the future seen from the past which is in turn seen from now':
  • Somebody thinks about the future:
    - I will be meeting her later on.
  • Sometime later we look back at him thinking about the future:
    - He knew he would be meeting her later on.
  • I think about the future:
    - I'm going to buy a new computer today
  • The next day I remember:
    I was going to buy a computer yesterday, but then I realised I couldn't afford it.
  • The newspapers announce something that's going to happen:
    - There is to be a tax cut.
  • Sometime later I remember reading about it:
    - I read that there was to be a tax cut.
That's just about the the basis of it. Learn more by doing these exercises, and at the same time brush up your knowledge of future forms, future expressions with the verb to be and future time clauses.

Click and Drop - Where you see this sign, mouse over for instructions
Not everyone seems to agree as to exactly what to include in 'Future in the Past'. So do this exercise as a little experiment, although there isn't necessarily a right answer.

Exercise 1 - Tick/check the boxes in Column A for the sentences which you think are 'Future in the Past', ignoring the B and C columns for the time being. Then check and click on Show explanation which will also tell you how to complete the exercise.

1.She said that she would be home by eight.
2.He somehow knew that she would be home late.
3.I wondered if she would be home at her usual time.
4.She was going to do it yesterday, but forgot.
5.She promised she was going do it the next day.
6.He asked when she was going to do it.
7.She asked me when and where we were to meet them.
8.They told us we were to meet them after work.
9.We were to meet them outside the cinema.

Future in the Past - standard future forms

We can use all these forms and more in Future in the Past. Simply change the form to a past one, just like in reported speech.
  • Future simple - will changes to would
  • am / is / are going to changes to was / were going to
  • Present continuous - is/are meeting changes to was / were meeting etc.,

Exercise 3 - Enter a suitable verb from the box into each gap, choosing the correct future form for the function and then converting it into a past form.

Each of the seven future forms you looked at in Exercise 2 is used once only. Where appropriate use British spelling (the program is fussy!)

become   ·   meet   ·   stay   ·   leave   ·   travel   ·   serve   ·   finish
1.At the age of eight, I decided I a pilot when I grew up.
2.We knew she for ten hours by the time she arrived at our house later that night, so she was probably going to be very tired.
3.According to his ticket, the flight at 06.00, so he still had plenty of time.
4.He left home early as he his cousin off the flight from London.
5.He suggested that, as we lunch by 2pm, he would order the taxi for 2.30.
6.We were going for a picnic and hoped the weather sunny.
7.At breakfast, we were told that they lunch at 1pm, as usual.

Did it happen or not?

We can usually tell from the context whether the event referred to in the Future in the Past expression happened or not, but sometimes we may not be able to tell.

Exercise 4a - Match the beginnings of the sentences in the top part to their endings in the bottom part, then check.

Exercise 4b - Do you think the event happened? Tick/check yes, no or don't know and check to see if you agree with my interpretation.

yesnodon't know
1. I was going to buy a new computer yesterday,
2. I decided I was going to buy a new computer,
3. I thought the train left at six,
4. It looked possible I would be late,
5. This time I was going to be early,
6. I was going to call you earlier,
7. I would be seeing him later,
8. I thought she was buying the tickets,
9. I was going to write the report in the morning,
10. I knew I would regret what I'd just said,
11. I'd heard she was going to start a new job,
12. I knew he would be going out for lunch,
a)so I started to panic a bit.
b)and I did, almost immediately.
c)so I left in plenty of time.
d)but I don't know whether she did or not.
e)so I didn't bother calling.
f)but I decided I couldn't really afford it.
g)but I had got the wrong end of the stick.
h)so I called him before he left.
i)but I had misread the timetable.
j)but something came up.
k)so I went to the techie shops in Charing Cross Road.
l)but it completely slipped my mind.


When used with the main verb in the first form would means that something did happen. This is used more often in written English.
  • He would later achieve great success as a TV chef.
  • She would go on to become the most popular author of her time.
  • Only later would they find out the truth.
But in subordinate clauses it is just the past form of will , and whether it happened or not depends on the context.
  • He knew he would be able to do it.
  • She hoped she would arrive in time.
  • They decided they would skip lunch.

was/were to and was/were to have + past participle

These expressions are used to talk about events that were still in the future at a certain time in the past. Note the following:
  • When we use was/were to have + past participle the meaning is similar to was/were meant/supposed to - something was arranged but didn't happen.
    • He was to have finished it by Friday. (but he didn't)

  • When we use was/were to + infinitive to simply state a fact, something did happen.
    • Later that year he was to win the World Championship (and he did)

  • Many books and websites say there is always this difference. But I think sometimes, at least informally, we also use was/were to + infinitive to mean was/were meant/supposed to, in which case it probably didn't happen, or at least hasn't happened yet. In this case we often stress was/were
    • They were to contact us today. (and they haven't, at least not yet)
    And this example from Language Leader Advanced:
    • The ministers were to meet at the Parish Fashion Show, but it was cancelled after the bombs.

would (with main verb) or was/were?

Both of these expressions are quite formal and are mostly used in written English. I confess I can find very little if any difference in meaning between the two.
  • Later that year he would win the World Championship
  • Later that year he was to win the World Championship

Exercise 5 - Look at these sentences and choose the most likely ending to complete the sentence. (The answers may be open to interpretation)

1. This was the man she was to marry ...
a) and spend the rest of her life with.
b) but she never turned up to the wedding.
c) Either ending is equally likely.
2. She was to meet me outside the cinema, ...
a) and arrived a few minutes after me.
b) but she never turned up.
c) Either ending is equally likely.
3. It was to take them several hours to put the fire out, ...
a) but it took them two days.
b) but they managed it in the end.
c) Either ending is equally likely.
4. It was to have been the best day of her life, ...
a) but it ended in disaster.
b) and that was just what it was.
c) Either ending is equally likely.
5. He was to spend the rest of his life in Scotland ...
a) but emigrated to New Zealand.
b) writing best-selling novels.
c) Either ending is equally likely.
6. The Games were to be held in Ruritania, ...
a) but had to be moved due to the Ruritanian crisis.
b) and turned out to be a great success.
c) Either ending is equally likely.

Future expresions with to be

There are several future expressions using the construction to be (something) to + verb. These are especially used in newspapers.

Exercise 6a - Match the expressions with their meanings.

1. be toa)it's expected to happen at a certain time
2. be set tob)we are very certain it will happen
3. be due toc)when something is expected to happen (especially by newspapers)
4. be likely tod)it's imminent, it's going to happen very soon
5. be bound toe)it's probably going to happen
6. be about tof)when something is in the future at a particular point of time

Exercise 6b - Enter the past form of a suitable expression from the box into each gap.

be to   ·   be likely to   ·   be set to   ·   be about to   ·   be bound to   ·   be due to
1.When we saw the size of the traffic jam, we knew we be late.
2.According to the timetable, the train leave at 18.30. But it's 18.45 and it's still here.
3.Later he go on to become the greatest poet of his generation.
4.Our company overtake all our rivals by the end of last quarter. We're just waiting for the final figures before we make an announcement.
5.We ran to the platform because the train leave any minute.
6.It was thought that any further eruption of the volcano cause considerable damage.

First Conditional and Future Time Clauses in the past.

As with other future forms, we don't use Future in the Past in clauses beginning with time expressions such as: after, as soon as, before, by the time, if, in case, when, while, unless, etc. (These are sometimes called future time clauses). Use the past simple instead. NB Most of these examples are reported speech rather than Future in the Past, so it's a little bonus exercise.
Present / future- If we hurry, we'll get the next bus.
- NOT If we will hurry ...
Past- I knew that if we hurried, we'd get the next bus.
- NOT If we would hurry ...
Present / future- When we finish lunch, we're going to the beach.
- NOT When we will finish lunch ...
Past- I knew that when we finished lunch, we were going to the beach.
- NOT When we would finish lunch ...

Exercise 7 - Fill the two gaps in each sentence using a pair of verbs from the box. In each sentence use one verb in past simple and one with would, as in the example (0).

wash up / finish   ·   clean / do   ·   take / rain   ·   arrive / pack up
know / read   ·   act / lose   ·   start /arrive   ·   land / go  ·   make / come
0.I told her I would make supper when the children came home.
1.I said that if it was me I an umbrella in case it .
2.We lunch when he . But not before.
3.I said that I the kitchen while she the sitting room.
4.They told us they as soon as they the report.
5.We knew that unless we there and then, we the contract.
6.She asked if I after we supper.
7.We hoped the new computer before the old one altogether.
8.It was expected that as soon as his plane , his fans mad with excitement.

Reported speech and indirect questions

When these refer to the future, the verb forms are similar to Future in the Past, but they also share other features with reported speech and indirect questions not having future reference, and I think are best dealt with under those headings, so I won't be saying anything more about them here.

I was going to ..., but ...

We often use I was going to ..., but as an excuse.

Exercise 8 - Match the beginnings and endings.

1. I was going to do the washing up
2. I was going to cut the grass
3. I was going to invite you to the party
4. I was going to tell you earlier
5. I was going to do my homework
6. I was going to help you tidy up
a)but Jim's just invited me to play golf.
b)but it's just started to rain.
c)but I forgot your number.
d)but I couldn't find a pen anywhere.
e)but we've run out of Fairy Liquid.
f)but I got sidetracked and forgot about it until now.

Putting it all together

Exercise 9a - If the underlined verbs are wrong, enter the correct form in the boxes. If they are already correct, do nothing.

1.Hello, I didn't expect that I will see you here.
2.She was going to ring me at nine, but I never heard anything.
3.We were meeting him immediately after the meeting, so we took a taxi.
4.The train arrived at platform 2 in five minutes time.
5.This time next week we would be lying on a beach somewhere.
6.We thought we would have finished before now.
7.The government are to announce new taxes last week.
8.I was about to phone her when she walked through the door.

Exercise 9b - Fill the gaps using the verb in brackets with one of the forms given in the box. Each of these forms is used once only unless there is information otherwise. In some cases there could be more than one correct answer.

be about to + verb   ·   be going to + verb (x2)   ·   be + -ing
would (x3)   ·   would have been + 3rd form   ·   would be + -ing
to + verb (x2)   ·   to have + 3rd form
1.He (do) it yesterday. That was his plan, but something came up.
2.Just as we (leave) for our picnic it started to pour with rain.
3.It was all arranged, we (fly) out early the next day. We therefore decided to have an early night.
4.I wondered whether the plan (be) feasible to put into operation.
5.They were (open) their new shop last week, but there was a hitch and now it's going to be next week at the earliest.
6.She was (become) even more famous as a director than she had been as an actress.
7.We had expected that the work (finish) by now.
8.Our neighbours had decided they (have) a party that weekend.
9.I knew that Lassie (come) back. She always does after one of her expeditions.
10.It was only years later that he (find) out the truth.
11.By chance they were (meet) again years later in Paris.
12.I thought she (do) it right now.


Much of my information has come from:
  • Modern English Usage - Shaw (Oxford)
  • Advanced Grammar in Use (Cambridge), where the ideas for a couple of the exercises also came from.
All examples and any errors are mine.


  • Ex 1 - 1. B, 2. A, 3. C, 4. A, 5. B, 6. C,7. C, 8. B, 9. A
  • Ex 2 - 1. f, 2. c, 3. g, 4. d, 5. a, 6. e, 7. b
  • Ex 3 - 1. was going to become, 2. would have been travelling, 3. left, 4. was meeting, 5. would have finished, 6. would stay, 7. would be serving
  • Ex 4a - 1. f, 2. k, 3. i, 4. a, 5. c, 6. l, 7. e, 8. g, 9. j, 10. b, 11 d, 12. h
  • Ex 4b - no, yes, yes, don't know, yes, no, yes, no, no, yes, don't know, yes
  • Ex 5 - 1. a, 2. b, 3. b, 4. a,5. b, 6. c
  • Ex 6a - 1. f, 2. c,3. a, 4. e, 5. b, 6. d
  • Ex 6b - 1. were bound to, 2. was due to, 3. was to, 4. was set to, 5. was about to
  • Ex 7 - 1. would take /rained, 2. arrived / would start, 3. would clean / did, 4. would know / read, 5. acted / would lose, 6. would was / finished, 7. would arrive / packed, 8. arrived / would go
  • Ex 8 - 1. e, 2. b, 3. c, 4. f, 5. d, 6. a
  • Ex 9a - 1. would see, 2. -, 3. -, 4. arrives, 5. will be lying, 6. -, 7. were to announce, 8. -
  • Ex 9b - 1. was going to do, 2. were about to leave, 3. were flying, 4. would be, 5. to have opened, 6. would become, 7. would have been finished, 8. were going to have, 9. would come, 10. would find, 11. were to meet, 12. would be doing

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You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (should be Page 11). The lesson is on Pages 1-10. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.

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