Monday, October 22, 2007

Using "I was wondering if..."

I read an email from a friend today. She started the email with "I was wondering if you made it to the show." I was a little confused by the email. I thought she hadn't read a previous email that said that I was at the show. I then thought about it awhile and realized she meant that in the past (the night of the show), she had been wondering if I was present at the show.

It made me think about my ESL students and how such a phrase as "I was wondering if..." could be confusing. "I was wondering if" uses the Past Progressive tense. Yet, native English speakers often use this as an opening for a request. For example, "I was wondering if you could lend me $10." Another way this could be expressed is "Could you please lend me $10?"

"I was wondering if..." is a way to "soften" a request. However, if a non-native English speaker hears this, he or she would be justified in thinking this is a past tense event.

English is just a bit confusing.



Lyaka said...

Sorry, could you specify, is this phrase formal or informal, or maybe neutral?

Name: Debra Garcia, M.A. said...

Sometimes things just do not fall into the categories of "formal" or "informal." So, if you like, we can call it "neutral."