Past tense?

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Hello

I am wondering why the speaker used past tense in this situation:

I telephoned someone today and that person forgot my name and then said "What was your name?"

Why did she use past tense "was" ?

thank you
 

areev

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Hello

I am wondering why the speaker used past tense in this situation:

I telephoned someone today and that person forgot my name and then said "What was your name?"

Why did she use past tense "was" ?

thank you



you gave your name in the past,but she forgot your name.so she asks your name again.
 

2006

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I telephoned someone today and that person forgot my name and then said "What was your name?"
Why did she use past tense "was"?

The answer is related to the questionable custom of 'backshifting tense', that is using past tense, in indirect speech.

A tells B "I am in Brazil." (direct speech)
B says 'A said he was in Brazil.' (indirect speech)

"What was your name?" (= 'What did you say your name was?') is related to the above.

It makes more sense to say '(Sorry I forgot.) What is your name?' After all, your name has not changed.
 

philo2009

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I'm afraid I disagree. There is no backshifting here, since no reporting of speech is taking place: the sentence in question is a simple main clause.

This use of the past tense tends to occur when information has been supplied but simply forgotten by the speaker. The speaker uses the verb form as a kind of polite device to acknowledge that the error is his/hers and not that of the addressee.

If, however, the question were embedded as indirect speech, then

What did you say your name was?

would certainly be the correct standard form.
 

corum

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Hello

I am wondering why the speaker used past tense in this situation:

I telephoned someone today and that person forgot my name and then said "What was your name?"

Why did she use past tense "was" ?

thank you

I did not read the other two posters' comments yet. Here is mine:

What was your name = What did you say your name is.
 

Tdol

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I agree with Philo2009 that it's a question of politeness as the person is asking again:
What's your name? = The first time of asking
What was your name? = I have already asked but am asking again.
 

2006

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I'm afraid I disagree. There is no backshifting here, since no reporting of speech is taking place: the sentence in question is a simple main clause.
I didn't say that reporting of speech is taking place, but it seems to be the same 'logic'. And actually "What was your name?", in this context, has exactly the same meaning as "What did you say your name was?" Anyway, that's the way I see it.

This use of the past tense tends to occur when information has been supplied but simply forgotten by the speaker. The speaker uses the verb form as a kind of polite device to acknowledge that the error is his/hers and not that of the addressee.

How does using the 'wrong tense' show politeness?
2006
 

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emsr2d2

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Good luck in explaining the logic of that statement. :)

If you want to take the easy way out, then say "I'm sorry, what's your name again?"

That way, it can be taken as "What IS...." or "What WAS....."

However, as far as usual English is concerned, I would always say "What was your name?" if I was asking for a second time. I can't entirely explain why, it's just what we say!
 

2006

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If you want to take the easy way out, then say "I'm sorry, what's your name again?"

That way, it can be taken as "What IS...." or "What WAS....."

However, as far as usual English is concerned, I would always say "What was your name?" if I was asking for a second time. I can't entirely explain why, it's just what we say!
Yes, I fully understand that and I realize that many peoplle say that. I'm just pointing out what I feel is one of the illogical aspects of the English language and am suggesting a more logical, and also acceptable, alternative.
 
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philo2009

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Yes, I fully understand that and I realize that many peoplle say that. I'm just pointing out what I feel is one of the illogical aspects of the English language and am suggesting a more logical, and also acceptable, alternative.

Not really so 'illogical' at all.

What was your name?

simply refers back to the recent past time at which the information was given. (It will also presumably be true in the present, but the point of the utterance is to focus on the past, not the present.)

If we accept this, there is no need to resort to spurious connections with backshifting to account for this usage!
 

2006

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Not really so 'illogical' at all. That's obviously a matter of opinion.

What was your name?

simply refers back to the recent past time at which the information was given. Then it's much more logical to say 'What did you say your name is?

(It will also presumably be true in the present, but the point of the utterance is to focus on the past, not the present.)
If we accept this, Obviously some of us don't. there is no need to resort to spurious connections with backshifting to account for this usage! Again that's a matter of opinion.
You and I and others have discussed this general topic before. You and I don't agree, and it doesn't seem useful to discuss it further here.
 

philo2009

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You and I and others have discussed this general topic before. You and I don't agree, and it doesn't seem useful to discuss it further here.

Agreed. We don't.
 

Tdol

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How does using the 'wrong tense' show politeness?

The past tense can be used for politeness:

I was wondering whether... = I am wondering, but it sounds more tentative in the past as a way of introducing a request, etc

Past modals
 

corum

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ESL School: Past tense for politeness

The same device confronted Elena at the hairdresser’s, where the receptionist asked: What was your name? Elena was puzzled: her name was and still is Elena X. Again, it’s a formula that indicates politeness to the client. I think it might be related to a device that has become old-fashioned. As the question “what’s your name?” seems too direct, receptionists often used reported speech: “what did you say your name was?” Here the tense shift is entirely in keeping with the rules for reported speech. However, the tendency towards ever briefer forms, has encouraged the shorter form “what was your name?
 
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