This is a second conditional

If I were you, I wouldn't bother him while he --------- sleeping.

What goes in the blank space?

My opinion: I've seen people use the present tense and past tense ( maybe it was the past subjunctive)

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    It’s is. To use was it’d have to be: “If it had been me, I wouldn’t have bothered him while he was sleeping.” – Jim May 19 '17 at 11:37
  • Picture you and a friend standing above a sleeping man. You’re about to poke him, but your friend grabs your hand and says ~. Was doesn’t fit there. – Jim May 19 '17 at 11:40
  • I think there are two grammatical options: is or will be, because this conditional can refer to present or future events. – Lucian Sava May 19 '17 at 13:04
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    @LucianSava You mean it could be "while he will be sleeping.."? Hmm.. It's pretty uncommon to use "will" in a subordinate clause (though it's possible in some appropriate contexts). – user178049 May 19 '17 at 13:25
  • @LucianSava - Unfortunately that’s not correct. That construction seems to be prevalent in Indian English, but to any native speaker it sounds wrong. “will be sleeping indicates that in the future he’s going to be sleeping. – Jim May 19 '17 at 14:35

Both "is" and "was" are correct. The reason has to do with the fact that past tenses can be used to indicate either a time that has gone by or an impossibility. That can lead to ambiguity, leaving the speaker with a choice between choosing consistent tenses or resolving the ambiguity. In this sentence, the speaker is putting him- or herself into an impossible situation (being someone else). This version:

If I were you, I wouldn't bother him while he was sleeping.

chooses to keep the tenses consistent. The speaker is consistently imagining a world where he or she was the other person, and is focusing (subconsciously) on the unreality of that world. By contrast, in this version:

If I were you, I wouldn't bother him while he is sleeping.

the speaker wants to emphasize the fact that the sleep is ongoing. He or she might have said:

My opinion is that you should not bother him while he is sleeping.

In writing, I would generally choose the first option, especially if you can provide enough context to reduce ambiguity. However, I think the second option is not wrong, even in writing. I am a native speaker, by the way.

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I asked this same question in another forum and this the only answer I got . Apparently this person is a native speaker.

"For the past tense, I would probably use "when" in place of "while": If I were you, I wouldn't bother him when he was sleeping.

Please don't ask me to justify those choices. " * Yes, It kind of looks like wandrea's answer. I'd like someone​(preferaly a native speaker) to tell which option is correct and if there more than one option. whats the difference between those sentences in which each option is used .

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  • "While" seems more pedantically correct, but I don't think it would be inappropriate or awkward to use "when" here. (I am a native speaker of Canadian English.) – Jim MacKenzie Jun 20 '17 at 14:50

In this case, "is" goes in the blank space. For "was", the sentence needed to have been "If I had been you, I wouldn't have bothered him while he was sleeping"

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