AGTV: Talking Tenses

This is a really great grammar question that I received from reader Linda.  Here it is:

Hello, Kate,

My friend and I disagree over the use of “went” in the following excerpt. The speaker is talking to a person in Milwaukee.

“So, I was hoping that, if you had the time and were willing, you would show me around the city if I went back there for a few days? Or is that a lot to ask? I know I would be in good company,” he added hastily.

To my ear, it sounds better to say “if I came back there for a few days,” since the person he’s talking to is already there. Is one or the other correct? Or does it matter?



When I read this, I thought back to high school French class.  Whenever we worked on our “si clauses” (the grammar to use with “if, then” statements), they would always say, “Paris, France Is Cool.”

If Present, then Future.

If Imperfect, then Conditional.

If she does meth, then she will scratch her face away.

If she did meth, then she would scratch her face away.

(And you wonder where they get the expression “methface.”)

Oh, man.  I just reread the question and I’m realizing that what I just wrote was completely irrelevant.  I thought this was going to be about “if, then” statements.  Okay.  Apologies.  I’m going to leave it up, because I think it’s good grammar material.

Both the words came and went are the past forms of the verb.  Because of that, I think either word could be used.  I’m assuming that the character originally came from that city.  You could also use returned if the character is originally from there.

It doesn’t matter where the person to whom the character is speaking is currently located.  You could come or you could go.  It’s up to you.  However, because you’re using the word back, I think that the word went sounds better than came.  If he originally came from the area, you could also use returned and drop the word back.

So, I was hoping that, if you had the time and were willing, you would show me around the city if I returned there for a few days?


Thanks, Linda — and thanks especially for using the comma after the word Hello!  I love to see that!


3 responses to “AGTV: Talking Tenses

  1. Well, the whole thing is in the past tense, so why wouldn’t “went” work fine? You have “was hoping”, “had the time”, and “were willing”. “Returned” is still in the past tense. To make it present/future tense, you’d have to say:

    “So, I’m hoping that, if you have the time and are willing, you will show me around the city if I come back there for a few days?”


  2. I would be more concerned with ‘he added hastily’ . As written, it applies to the entire quotation.

    Only someone visiting a mostly unfamiliar place would request a tour guide. Therefore, I would use ‘went back’.

  3. I would use the term “went” because the writer is not in the location being referenced.

    And, also as a nitpick, your “Paris, France is cool” needs another comma. It ought to read “Paris, France, is cool.” Otherwise, it looks and sounds as though you’re addressing someone named Paris.

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