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  1. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #1

    Politeness: distancing verb forms

    Hello, if I want to ask somebody if they're free tonight, there's a lot of ways of saying that. I came up with four and tried to order them from the most polite one to the least polite one. Could you check them for me please? Are they ordered from the most polite one to the least polite one? Are all of them natural? Supposing they're used in the right context.

    1. I wondered if you were free tonight. (the most polite of them)
    2. I was wondering if you were free tonight.
    3. I wonder, are you free tonight?
    4. I'm wondering, are you free tonight? (the least polite of them)

    I'm especially unsure of the second and third one. I'm not sure if past simple progressive is more polite/definite than present simple. e.g.: I was thinking that we could go out tonight. vs. I think that we could go out tonight.

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    #2

    Re: Politeness: distancing verb forms

    I'm wondering if you're putting too much thought into this.

    The point is to use one degree of distance from the question you are trying to act like you're not asking.

    I wouldn't say that any of your 4 forms are more or less "polite than the others." 2 is the most natural to me, followed by 4. 1 seems odd to me in the past tense.

  2. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Politeness: distancing verb forms

    Thank you Dave for your answer. I got that idea from Michael Swan's Practical Grammar in Use from a chapter where he explains these differences, but doesn't put all of them in contrast.
    Does anybody think otherwise? Or likewise?

  3. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Politeness: distancing verb forms

    Quote Originally Posted by CarloSsS View Post
    Hello, if I want to ask somebody if they're free tonight, there's a lot of ways of saying that. I came up with four and tried to order them from the most polite one to the least polite one. Could you check them for me please? Are they ordered from the most polite one to the least polite one? Are all of them natural? Supposing they're used in the right context.

    1. I wondered if you were free tonight. (the most polite of them)
    2. I was wondering if you were free tonight.
    3. I wonder, are you free tonight?
    4. I'm wondering, are you free tonight? (the least polite of them)

    I'm especially unsure of the second and third one. I'm not sure if past simple progressive is more polite/definite than present simple. e.g.: I was thinking that we could go out tonight. vs. I think that we could go out tonight.
    As far as I'm concerned, your four examples have about the same degree of politeness or otherwise. I don't feel any difference between "I wonder" and "I'm wondering", or "I was thinking" and "I think".

    Formal: May I enquire if you have any free time this evening?
    Neither formal nor informal: Are you free tonight?
    Informal: Doing anything tonight?

  4. CarloSsS's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Politeness: distancing verb forms

    Thank you, that's what I wanted to know.

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