Is this what you want / wanted?

Nicolemiller

Senior Member
Cantonese
If someone wanted something, let's say a celebrity's autograph, and I found her one, when I ask her to confirm, should I say (a) or (b), thank you.

(a) is this what you want? (Should I say this if she wanted this autograph today?)

(b) is this what you wanted? (Should I say this if she had been wanting this for a period of time?)

Thank you. If any tenses are incorrect above, please correct me. Thank you.
 
  • Mar Rojo

    Senior Member
    British English
    The past form is used as an indirect, more polite, and/or more tentative way to ask a question or make a request. In your example, a difference in time may not be involved.

    Walking into the boss's office after receiving a memo:

    You: You want/ed to speak me about something?

    The time reference is the same, but the past form is used as a distancing tool.

    Similar: You're going to a party this evening, and at the moment you will be going alone. You see a friend in the street and you say:

    "Hey, hi. I wonder/ed if you'd like to come to a party tonight."

    The time reference of the "wondering" is the same, but the tense is different.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    If someone wanted something, let's say a celebrity's autograph, and I found her one, when I ask her to confirm, should I say (a) or (b)?

    (a) Is this what you want? (Should I say this if she wanted this autograph today?)

    (b) Is this what you wanted? (Should I say this if she had been wanting this for a period of time?)
    In the situation you've described, either is correct. It has nothing to do with how long she has wanted the autograph.

    Question (a) assumes that she still would like to have the autograph; that's a reasonable assumption.

    Question (b) is a common, idiomatic use of the past tense, not really putting her desire for the autograph into the past but basically using "wanted" to mean "asked for".

    I might say to you, now: Is that what you want to know? Or: Is that what you wanted to know? In this context, they mean the same.
     
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