was/is

furrykef   Wed May 16, 2007 12:01 am GMT
> Furry is learning Emglish and wants to teach it at the same time.

Pos, I didn't do anything to deserve such condescension. Just because I presented an argument that you disagree with does not make me an idiot. Nor do I think you and M56 are dumb for disagreeing with me. My only problem was I was getting very angry because I kept getting told I was wrong without any sort of explanation. You simply can't debate unless you're willing to defend your position. (Yes, I know M56 brought up the "remote forms" thing, but I'm talking about before that.) I was trying to get to the bottom of the issue. You can't get to the bottom of something if your interlocutor only wants to drag you back up to the surface.

> Your take on this hasn't taught me anything. I think M56's take seems most logical.

I still don't think so, because I don't see any connection between the sentences like "What was the name please?", and sentences like "Could you help me?" or "Might I take your order?" are even related to the sentence "What was the name, please?". That's why I was arguing that the first two sentences were in the conditional mood (or, if you prefer, the "remote form"). With the conditional mood, there's always an auxiliary verb (you can't use the conditional mood in English without one). In the sentence "What was the name, please?", there's no auxiliary verb, so it's different.

As for *how* it's different, I think that's a simple matter of "completing" the sentence: "What was the name you were wanting to look up when you called us?" Of course, nobody would say the full sentence that way, but the point is, there is a connection to the past in this sentence: the caller had a name in mind before calling. But you can't "complete" the sentence in a similar fashion with a question like "Could I help you?" If I try to complete it, I end up with something like "Could I help you, if you don't mind?" That's a conditional construction, and there's no connection to the past. Although it appears similar, it's fundamentally different.

Looking through the thread again, I also found another example in one of M56's posts: "Did you want to try that dress on, madam?" But there still has to be a connection to the past. I don't think the following exchange is likely:

Salesman: And here we have this...
(He shows the woman a dress.)
Woman: Why, this is a lovely dress!
Salesman: Did you want to try it on, madam?

"Did you..." sounds unnatural here (to me, at least) because the woman didn't even see the dress until just now. The salesman would say "Would you like to...?" or "Do you...?" But if it was a few minutes ago that the dress was presented, then there's a connection to the past there, and "Did you...?" becomes possible.

Now, the reason why somebody might say "What was the name, please?" instead of "What is the name, please?" might indeed have to do with some kind of formal social distancing, but you can't just use the past tense instead of the present any time you want to be more formal. There still has to be some kind of connection to the past. But that caveat doesn't apply to questions like "Could I help you?".

Do you have any counterexamples, M56?

- Kef
Guest   Wed May 16, 2007 3:07 am GMT
Pos is M56's kickback!
Bridget   Wed May 16, 2007 11:38 am GMT
<With the conditional mood, there's always an auxiliary verb (you can't use the conditional mood in English without one).>

???

When the sun shines, we go for a picnic.
If he leaves, I stay.
Pos   Wed May 16, 2007 11:44 am GMT
<As for *how* it's different, I think that's a simple matter of "completing" the sentence: "What was the name you were wanting to look up when you called us?">

What has that got to do with the original sentence?

"What was the name, sir?

The receptionist is booking the guest into the hotel. She has not asked for his name perviously and he hasn't given it. She needs his name for the register. Now, she could have said "what is the name, sir?", "what's your name, sir?", "And your name, sir"?, etc., but she didn't. She said the above. Now, Furrything, without too much weaving, could you tell us why she chose the structure with the "past tense" form of "to be"?
Bridget   Wed May 16, 2007 11:45 am GMT
<Pos is M56's kickback!>

Will you be giving us your "educated" view on the topic question anytime in the near future?
Pos   Wed May 16, 2007 11:52 am GMT
<Looking through the thread again, I also found another example in one of M56's posts: "Did you want to try that dress on, madam?" But there still has to be a connection to the past. I don't think the following exchange is likely: ...>

And that's where your lack of direct knowledge shows. Such a question is used in Harrod's, daily.

Salesman, seeing a customer standing and looking at a dress:
Salesman: Did you want to try it on, madam?


If you go to K-Mart, and see the very same situation, you may hear "Do you want to try that on?" - in Harrod's, maybe not. Ask yourself why.
Priscilla   Wed May 16, 2007 11:55 am GMT
<but you can't just use the past tense instead of the present any time you want to be more formal. There still has to be some kind of connection to the past. But that caveat doesn't apply to questions like "Could I help you?". >

Are you saying that the term "past simple" always refers to past time?
Timmy   Wed May 16, 2007 12:05 pm GMT
"I wish you would not sneeze. Before subordination this is: You will not sneeze: that is what I wish. W. remains, but will becomes would to give the remoteness always connected with wish, which is seen also, for instance, in I wish I were instead of I wish I be. "

http://www.bartleby.com/116/213.html

Timmy
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 7:03 pm GMT
You've got it, Pos.
Guest   Wed May 16, 2007 7:59 pm GMT
Since when did hotel receptions ask "what was the name, please?"? I've never heard of that. Show me some proof that they really say that.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 8:25 pm GMT
At least to me, using "did" or "was" in these sorts of cases seems vaguely wrong, with the use of the present tense sounding far more natural to me (note though that this does not apply to modals at all, where the use of what was historically the preterite is very natural). If anything, it seems like an akward-sounding affectation to me with little place in actual everyday usage that some salespeople and like have apparently been taught to use.

>>And that's where your lack of direct knowledge shows. Such a question is used in Harrod's, daily.

Salesman, seeing a customer standing and looking at a dress:
Salesman: Did you want to try it on, madam?


If you go to K-Mart, and see the very same situation, you may hear "Do you want to try that on?" - in Harrod's, maybe not. Ask yourself why.<<

Can we say that your view here is horribly prescriptivist and elitist?
Guest   Wed May 16, 2007 9:17 pm GMT
"Since when did hotel receptions ask "what was the name, please?"? I've never heard of that. Show me some proof that they really say that.

Get out more.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 9:25 pm GMT
>>"Since when did hotel receptions ask "what was the name, please?"? I've never heard of that. Show me some proof that they really say that.

Get out more.<<

I myself have heard this sort of usage, but never by the general public - only by individuals in some kind of rather formal commercial setting, and even then I hear it quite infrequently.
Priscilla   Wed May 16, 2007 9:36 pm GMT
<If anything, it seems like an akward-sounding affectation to me with little place in actual everyday usage that some salespeople and like have apparently been taught to use. >

It really is a part of English and has been for many, many years. I see errors in your text above , Travis. Are you a nonnative speaker of English? If so, it may be why you are unfamilar with such forms as "what was the name", "did you want to speak to the manager", amd so on.
Priscilla   Wed May 16, 2007 9:39 pm GMT
"Can we say that your view here is horribly prescriptivist and elitist?"

I don't think his/her view is anything to do with either of those. Harrod's does expect its sales staff to use distancing language. Do you think K-Mart expects the same?