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Are these correct? Should the tenses be the same? Like either all past or all present? If so, why? I can't mix the tenses? I'm confused with mixing the tenses. What do they mean?

1. What if I decide that I don't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?

2. What if I decided that I didn't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?

3. What if I decided that I don't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?

4. What if I decide that I don't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?

Thanks.
Comments  
Hello Jack

The choice of tense in the 'that' clause doesn't affect what kind of conditional it is. The underlying structure is:

1. If I decide X, will I be able to return it?
– type 1. The choice of present+future tenses gives the impression of immediacy.

2. If I decided X, would I be able to return it?
– type 2. The choice of past+conditional tenses gives a more remote impression.

3. If I decided X, will I be able to return it?
– type 2/1: the speaker changes from 'remote' to 'immediate'. To my ears, this has a jolting effect: if someone said it to me, I would be startled by the sudden use of the present tense, in a sentence that had begun with a 'remote' condition.

4. If I decide X, would I be able to return it?
– type 1/2: the speaker changes from 'immediate' to 'remote'. This has the opposite effect to #3: it makes the condition seem more remote. However, it's less startling than #3, because 'would I be able' is also a 'polite' form of request.

As I say, the difference in the 'that'-clause tense between #2 and #3 isn't relevant to the type of conditional. Both 'don't' and 'didn't' would be fine. 'Don't' has more immediacy.

MrP
MrP wrote:
3. If I decided X, will I be able to return it?
– type 2/1: the speaker changes from 'remote' to 'immediate'. To my ears, this has a jolting effect: if someone said it to me, I would be startled by the sudden use of the present tense, in a sentence that had begun with a 'remote' condition.

<<<<<<<<<<<

Great analysis, Mr P. I'd like to add a comment though. {much more deferential than, "I will add a comment though."}

The jolting effect, as you described is there, at least as a potential jolting effect. But what we must remember and I don't think you made this clear to students is that language needs all effects.

Sometimes we need and want to be rude; sometimes we need to effect a less deferential manner, ie. we need to be strident. Language must be able to describe the myriad feelings and emotions people have.
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My two cents.

1. decide ... will ... [present form ... (modal) present form ...] Point of view: Present (decide)
2. decided ... would ... [past form ... (modal) past form ...] Point of view: Past (decided)
3. decided ... will ... [past form ... (modal) present form ...] Point of view: Past (decided)
4. decide ... would ... [present form ... (modal) past form ...] Point of view: Present (decide)

Tentative "rule": modal past forms can be used in present-point-of-view sentences; modal present forms cannot be used in past-point-of-view sentences.

Tentative "rule": Point of view is set at the beginning of the utterance.

Result: Only the third example sounds anomalous.

CJ
The choice of tense in the 'that' clause doesn't affect what kind of conditional it is.


So #1 and #2 mean the same??
1. What if I decide that I don't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?
2. What if I decide that I didn't want it anymore, will I be able to return it? ('didn't' here makes you feel like in the past? Shouldn't this be wrong?)

3. What if I decided that I didn't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?
4. What if I decided that I don't want it anymore, would I be able to return it? (what does this mean compared to #3?)

Thanks.
So #1 and #2 mean the same??

1. What if I decide that I don't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?
2. What if I decide that I didn't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?

('didn't' here makes you feel like in the past? Shouldn't this be wrong?)

JTT: Both 1 & 2 point to future situations, Jack. The meanings are identical. ENLs have to learn to grasp the difference between past tense and past tense FORM. Using {past tense FORM} ONLY serves to make the speaker's words seem less harsh, less direct. This might be used where we want the person to view our "not wanting" as a more distant possibility.



3. What if I decided that I didn't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?
4. What if I decided that I don't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?

(what does this mean compared to #3?)

JTT: All you do by injecting present tense FORMS is change the nuancial tone of the address. Using all past tense FORMS shows greater deference, a less challenging style.
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Hello Jack

If I were the shop assistant in question, I would respond to your examples as follows:

(Let 'NWI' = 'not wanting it')

3. What if I decided that I didn't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?
– All past tenses: good! Jack is treating NWI as a remote possibility within a remote conditional structure.

4. What if I decided that I don't want it anymore, would I be able to return it?
– Two past tenses: quite good. Jack is treating NWI as an immediate possibility, but still within a remote conditional structure.

2. What if I decide that I didn't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?
– Two present tenses: not so good. Jack is treating NWI as a remote possibility, but within an immediate conditional structure.

1. What if I decide that I don't want it anymore, will I be able to return it?
– All present tenses: uh oh. This Jack fellow is going to be trouble...

MrP
Thanks that was great.