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why "past tense" is used here.

I have heard some English material, in which a woman is enquiring information of how to borrow books from a library. But why she uses "past tense". For example, she said to a librarian:

I wanted some books with me to read on weekends.


My question is why she didn't use "present tense". Are there any differences of these two tenses used here ? 


Thank you so much.



Jan 29, 2015 8:31 AM
Comments · 12

As Jill says, a past tense can be used to make a request less strong. You can 'distance' yourself from a situation with a past tense form. This makes your request seem more tentative and polite.

It would be rude to walk up to a librarian and say 'I want some books'. The past tense form, which has associations with conditional and hypothetical situations, has the effect of softening the request.

January 29, 2015

I never thought about this before, about why we do this, although it's quite common. When I saw your question, I was stumped as to WHY we do this. I see that SuKi is right, it sounds more polite, and softens the request. How interesting!

January 29, 2015

You could use either past tense or present tense. "I wanted some books to read on the weekend" or "I want some books to read on the weekend." Sometimes, the use of past tense can just be a less strong way of asking for something. 

January 29, 2015

Thank all of you for your comments.

January 30, 2015

"I would like..." is also in past tense, remember.


The simple answer is that the verb is in past subjunctive, which looks exactly the same as simple past tense. Of course, we naturally use this form without needing to analyse it. It simply sound right. I agree that "I want" would sound rude.


If you really want to pull it apart, a simple past verb is accompanied by the time of the action. Past subjunctive isn't. "On weekends" refers to "read", by the way.

January 29, 2015
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English
Learning Language