The use of would or was/were going to to refer to the future from the perspective of some point in the past.
Other verbs in the past progressive can also be used to convey this future-in-the-past perspective.
- Does the English Language Have a Future Tense?
- Future Tense
- Habitual Past
- Past Tense
Examples and Observations:
- "Matilda stretched herself out, feeling her bones getting longer and longer. In a little while she would be taller than Frances, maybe one day even taller than Elizabeth. Maybe one day she would be the tallest woman in the world and she could join a circus."
(Ursula Dubosarsky, The Red Shoe. Roaring Book Press, 2006)
- "She was sure that Boyne would never come back, that he had gone out of her sight as completely as if Death itself had waited that day on the threshold."
(Edith Wharton, "Afterward," 1910)
- "He had not believed her when she said they would meet only once."
(Joseph L. Cacibauda, After Laughing Comes Crying: Sicilian Immigrants on Louisiana Plantations. Legas, 2009)
- "Fred Ballard, a local playwright friend of my mother, told her that I should go to his alma mater, Harvard, and that he would make inquiries on my behalf, which he did without success."
(Ted Sorensen, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. Harper, 2008)
- "Dibber always did tell me Pat was going to study to be a doctor."
(John Fante, "Horselaugh on Dibber Lannon." The Big Hunger: Stories 1932-1959, ed. by Stephen Cooper. HarperCollins, 2002)
- "Granny had told us not to get our hair wet since we were going to the bookmobile today."
(Kimberly Willis Holt, My Louisiana Sky. Henry Holt, 1998)
- "I will explain it to you. I was just going to tell you when you first came in, only you began about Castle Richmond."
(Anthony Trollope, Castle Richmond, 1860)
- Use of be going to
"[T]he future-in-the-past . . . is used where the speaker wishes to refer to a past time at which a particular event was still in the future, even though now, at the moment of speaking, it is past. This particular combination frequently makes use of the semi-modal expression be going to since this is readily marked for past. It is frequently used where some anticipated event does not occur or an expectation is cancelled. Consider these examples:
a. I was going to tell him, but he didn't give me a chance.(Martin J. Endley, Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar. Information Age, 2010)
b. I thought we were going to eat out tonight.
c. She was going to qualify next year, but now it will take longer."
- Use of the Past Progressive
"When an 'arranged-future-in-the-past' (or rather 'arranged-future-from-the-past,' as it is a future relative to the time of a past arrangement) concerns a personal arrangement, we normally use the progressive form of the past tense. This parallels the use of the present progressive for arranged post-present situations.
[Mary and Bill were stuffing a goose.] They were having guests that evening.The use of the progressive past is possible even if the context makes it clear that the action planned was not actually performed."
[There was no point in inviting the Robinsons, as] they were leaving the day before the party.
[The man was very nervous.] He was getting married that morning.
[I didn't call hm up to tell him the news because] I was going to his office the next dayu.
(Renaat Declerck, Susan Reed, and Bert Cappelle, The Grammar of the English Tense System: A Comprehensive Analysis. Walter de Gruyter, 2006)
"Daniel was so preoccupied with Carly that he didn't think to call Helene to let her know he was coming until he was already parking his truck in the driveway."
(Tanya Michna, Baggage Claim. Penguin, 2009)
- Relative Tenses
"Relative tenses represent deictic tenses. . . . Thus had sung is the past-in-the-past, has sung the past-in-the-present, and will-have-sung the past-in-the-future. Similarly, would sing is the future-in-the-past, is (about) to sing the future-in-the-present, and will be (about) to sing the future-in-the-future. Coincident (relatively present) tenses are ignored by many contemporary theorists, though Lo Cascio (1982: 42) writes of the imperfect, which is considered in traditional grammar a present-in-the-past, as a past coincident tense."
(Robert I. Binnick, "Temporality and Aspectuality." Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook, ed. by Martin Haspelmath. Walter de Gruyter, 2001)