Wednesday 11 November 2009

Usage: Polite or Impolite? Past VS Present -- Part 2


The continuous tenses can be used to show distancing because it sounds more casual, as they suggest something temporary and unfinished.

With present continuous:

  1. I'm hoping that you can give me a chance. (More unsure than I hope)
  2. I'm looking forward to seeing you again. (more casual than I look)
  3. I'm afraid we must be going.
Note than the distancing here is not exactly to show politeness, but to make the situations sound less serious.

For politeness, the past continuous give TWICE the level of distancing:
  1. "Professor, I was wondering if you could tell us about the Chamber of Secrets?" -- Hermione to Professor McGonagall
  2. "Were you looking for someone?" said the waitress.
  3. I was thinking -- maybe we should just forget about it.

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan