was/is

M56   Wed May 16, 2007 9:46 pm GMT
"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. "

But we are not talking about its frequency, are we? We are analysing its syntax, semantics and pragmatics.
furrykef   Wed May 16, 2007 9:46 pm 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. >>

Those aren't the conditional mood, though. The conditional mood is like this: "If I were President, I *would* lower taxes". Saying "I lower taxes", "I lowered taxes", "I will lower taxes", etc. are all incorrect; you have to use "would", "should", "could", "might", etc.

<< "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. " >>

I suppose this is meant to demonstrate a historical connection between these forms and the past tense, which I wasn't disputing. The whole thing about "moods" is figuring out the purpose of the use of the past tense form.

By the way, those sentences there demonstrate the subjunctive mood. Unlike our squabbling over what is and isn't the "conditional mood", I know that "subjunctive mood" is accepted terminology in English grammar and it is well-defined... probably because we have an easy means of distinguishing it from past tense forms ("I wish I were" vs. "I wish I was").

This also demonstrates that "remote forms" and moods aren't mutually exclusive: "I wish you would not sneeze" uses a "remote form", but is clearly in the subjunctive mood by analogy with "I wish I were..."

<< 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? >>

But in your example, the lady has already been looking at it. Notice I just used the perfect aspect, which is, of course, connected with the past.

But even presuming I'm completely wrong and a salesman *would* say this even right after showing her the dress, I don't think it has anything to do with statements like "Could I help you?". These past-tense constructions are quite uncommon in my experience, whereas people say things using remote verb constructions like "Could I help you?" all the time. The reason why is they are fundamentally different.

- Kef
Guest   Wed May 16, 2007 9:47 pm GMT
wie war doch gleich Ihr werter Name?
Pos   Wed May 16, 2007 9:57 pm GMT
I don't see how this is different from examples such as:

"I was wondering if you'd like to go out tonight."

Many speakers use that for even when they have had no pre-thought about asking the person to go out with them.
Bridget   Wed May 16, 2007 10:00 pm GMT
And these...

I wonder if you could help me.
I wondered if you could help me.
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 10:16 pm GMT
And this:

You could see the manager if you came back tomorrow.
You can see the manager if you come back tomorrow.

It's time to leave.
It's time we left.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 10:26 pm GMT
>>"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. "

But we are not talking about its frequency, are we? We are analysing its syntax, semantics and pragmatics.<<

That was partly a reaction to this comment:

>>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.<<

I was basically just saying in another way that it is an affectation more than anything else rather than an actual current usage that most (or even any non-negligible minority of) English-speakers today would use unprompted.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 10:29 pm GMT
>>By the way, those sentences there demonstrate the subjunctive mood. Unlike our squabbling over what is and isn't the "conditional mood", I know that "subjunctive mood" is accepted terminology in English grammar and it is well-defined... probably because we have an easy means of distinguishing it from past tense forms ("I wish I were" vs. "I wish I was"). <<

I doubt that the cases being discussed here (the use of "did" instead of "do" and "was" instead of "is"/"are" in questions) is actually an instance of the subjunctive mood. Remember that the present subjunctive of "be" is "be" and the past subjunctive of "be" is "were", not "was", and analogously I would doubt that "did" in such cases is actually the past subjunctive of "do".
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 10:40 pm GMT
More:

Question: How old do you think he is?

Possible answers:

1. He'll be about 65 now.
2. He'd be about 65 now.
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 10:45 pm GMT
<I was basically just saying in another way that it is an affectation more than anything else rather than an actual current usage that most (or even any non-negligible minority of) English-speakers today would use unprompted. >

And affectation is concerned with social distancing, right? So, you have remoteness there.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 10:53 pm GMT
The answer would usually be "He'd be about 65 now". However, it is possible to have "He'll be about 65 now" if the answer is not really from the point of view of the present but rather that of the past (for instance, if one is thinking in terms of what age someone was at some point in the past).

Mind you that "would" here is not really past indicative from a historical standpoint but rather is probably a frozen past subjunctive form (compare the usage of German "würde"), which is shown by how "would" is sometimes used in a more overtly subjunctive fashion in cases like "Would he have not responded to the troll, the thread would not have been flooded with drivel."

Note that the emphasis here is on the word "frozen", as the usage of "would", "could", and "should" are neither truly past indicative nor past subjunctive versions of "will", "can", and "shall" in English today, even though they have particular usage cases which still fit more strictly past indicative or past subjunctive roles (like the case mentioned above). Of course, their usual frozen usage seems to be more related to the past subjunctive than the past indicative, even though it does not really fit into the usage of the past subjunctive in English today in most cases.
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 10:53 pm GMT
Could you do me a favour.
We were wondering if...

Both involve factual remoteness. The past is used there to express (deontic) tentativeness and politeness.
Guest   Wed May 16, 2007 10:58 pm GMT
<The answer would usually be "He'd be about 65 now". >

How do you know that, travis? And why does it matter?
M56   Wed May 16, 2007 11:03 pm GMT
::The answer would usually be "He'd be about 65 now". However, it is possible to have "He'll be about 65 now" if the answer is not really from the point of view of the present but rather that of the past (for instance, if one is thinking in terms of what age someone was at some point in the past). ::

I disagree with your take on that, Travis. "He'd be about 65 by now" is simply more "hedged" (less assured) than "He'll be about 65 now". There, more hedged means more remote, factually.
Travis   Wed May 16, 2007 11:59 pm GMT
Remember, though, that "remoteness" in this case pertains to the factuality of a statement rather than, say, social distance in the case of the use of "was" rather than "is" in asking someone's name. I am not sure if you can really conflate the two cases at all. And anyways, in most actual usage if one wanted to be more definite, at least here, one would probably say "He's about 65 by now", which is a far more common usage, rather than "He'll be about 65 by now", which also indicates a different point of view with respect to time than "would be" or "is" (which are from the POV of the present than that of the past).