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Present or past?

Posted: Mon Dec 26, 2016 10:17 pm
by Dylan Thomas
Could you please tell me whether the following sentences are correct and natural?
If so, are there any differences between them?

(1) I like your new sweater. Is it expensive?
(2) I like your new sweater. Was it expensive?

(3) Your new trainers are really cool. How much do they cost?
(4) Your new trainers are really cool. How much did they cost?

Thank you.

DT

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:14 pm
by calum
The simple answer, from my point of view, is that option 2 is preferable in both examples, although both are correct.
I am making the assumption that the wearer has already bought the item(s) so it is logical to use the past tense.

One possible use for using the present tense would be if you were describing how much you enjoyed the latest movies on Netflix, I would ask "Is it expensive?", because this is something for which you are still paying. It is a subscription service. The same would apply to your new iPhone 7 on a monthly contract, I would ask about the cost in the present tense since payment for it is ongoing.

Of course, it's entirely possible that another native speaker from elsewhere in Great Britain could provide alternative answers and reasoning.

Does that help you any?

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:21 pm
by calum
In addition to my earlier reply, I would also use the past tense if I knew that the item referred to was no longer available; such a situation would preclude the use of the present tense.

I think the only time I would use the present tense in such an enquiry would be if I intended to buy the item for myself (and wanted to convey that intent to the other person). However, this is an extremely subtle difference which is not worth worrying about as it may not be apparent to anyone else!

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Tue Dec 27, 2016 10:09 pm
by Dylan Thomas
Hi Calum and thank you.

(1) I like your new sweater. Is it expensive?
(2) I like your new sweater. Was it expensive?

These two sentences were part of an exercise which offered several alternatives, among which “is” and “was”. All of my students except one chose “is” and I couldn’t decide whether it was acceptable as a correct answer. Then I followed this line of reasoning:

Let’s suppose that the answer is, “No, it isn’t. It costs only 20 euros.” So, if I wanted to buy the sweater for myself and went to the shop where the person bought it I would spend 20 euros, that is to say the price would still be the same.

It’s a complicated line of reasoning, isn’t it? I don’t even know whether it is correct or logical.
The truth is that I want to help my students. They’re always so sweet and collaborative.

DT

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Sat Dec 31, 2016 9:34 pm
by Geoff
I agree with Calum. If I liked the person's sweater (jumper or pullover in Australia) so much that I wanted one myself, I might say something like "I like your new sweater. I might get one myself. Are they expensive?" but I would not use 1).

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Sat Dec 31, 2016 10:21 pm
by Dylan Thomas
Thanks Geoff, I got it.

DT

Re: Present or past?

Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2017 9:50 pm
by Peter
I agree totally with what Calum has said. Within the context, the purchase of the sweater had to have been in the past and therefore the use of the past tense in asking how it expensive it was is correct. Except of course in Calum's point about the intention to buy a similar garment, when the present tense is equally acceptable.