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Saturday, February 01, 2020

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It's a form of 'hedging' or 'softening' to create more politeness.

This generally happens with the verbs 'hope, think, wonder'. We also use it with 'want' but only in the simple past. (eg: I wanted to ask you a question).

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/politeness

The rationale is that if we use a past tense form, it puts less pressure on the other person to say 'yes'. If we say 'I am hoping', then the listener might feel more pressure to agree because the 'hope' is current.

Overheard telephone conversation:

1st Non-native speaker: I was wondering if I could order some ....

2nd Non native speaker: Why are you always wondering?

[This really happened but it sounds like a joke.]

This is called 'distancing' in English. Here is the lesson adopted from 'Practical English Usage' by Swan.

We can make requests (and also questions, suggestions and statements) less direct (and so more polite) by using verb forms that suggest 'distance' from the immediate present reality. Past tenses are often used to do this.

Example: How much did you want to spend, sir? (meaning 'How much do you want to
spend?')

progressives: I'm hoping ...
Progressive forms can be used in the same way. They sound more casual and less definite than simple forms, because they suggest something temporary and incomplete.
I'm hoping you can lend me £10. (less definite than / hope...)

The book also talks about how we can use distancing in future, modal verbs, and conditional sentences.

By the way, great website. Huge fan!

When I was in secondary school, my teacher said that there are not real facts when we are hoping, so we have to use a verb tense except present tense to express that.

FROM SIMON:

Useful comments guys! Yes, you’ll see terms like hedging, softening and distancing being used to describe this kind of thing. We’re trying to be less direct and therefore more polite. This can be confusing to non-native speakers - see Zoe’s example above!

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