The future-in-the-past can be expressed by was going to, was about to, was to, was to have +past participle, was on the point of, was due to and (in more limited contexts) would. These forms can refer to events which were planned to take place and which did take place:

  • I couldn't go to Tom's party as I was about to go into hospital.

or refer to an outcome that could not be foreseen:

  • Little did they know they were to be reunited ten years later.

However, the future-in-the-past can also be used to describe events which were interrupted (just ... when):

  • We were just going to leave when Jean fell and hurt her ankle.

or to describe events which were hindered or prevented (... but):

  • I was to see/was going to see/was to have seen Mr Kay tomorrow, but the appointment has been cancelled.

Note the possible ambiguity of:

  • I was going to see Mr Kay. (the meeting did or did not take place) compared with:

  • I was to have seen Mr Kay. (I did not see him)


Future-in-the-past: typical contexts


The future-in-the-past is often used in narrative to describe 'events that were destined to happen':

  • Einstein was still a young man. His discoveries had not yet been published, but they were to change our whole view of the universe.


Would can also express future-in-the-past in such contexts:

  • We had already reached 9,000 feet. Soon we would reach the top.