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When I chat with friends, we often come up with imaginary situations. What type of tense should be used in the case?

Question:

Can I just keep everything in simple present tense like "will", "can", ....?

or

I have to use "would", "could" and verbs in past tense because of subjunctive mood or something?

Down below are three examples.(I wrote them in simple present)

The first example:

Friend A: There is a beautiful girl coming to me! (In reality, there is no girls. It is an imaginary situation.)

I:Are you going to talk to her?

Friend A: Yes, I am going to talk to her.and we will have a good time hanging around. Then we will go to the a cafe.......

Another example, I talking to my friend about an imaginary situation:

You are walking on the streets. You meet a beautiful woman. You guys chat and have a good time. It seems like she is your right one. Will you ask for her number?

The last example, I telling a imaginary story:

"Imagine aliens are invading our home. Aliens say you won't be harmed if you tell them where the president's office is. Aliens' spacecrafts are all over the place trying to gather information and wipe out anything that will stop them......"

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Since it seems like you are interested in when you can use conditional and what effect it has on your language, I will do my best to use your examples to try to explain. (This will be long.) As I mentioned in my comments, there is nothing wrong with the tenses the way you originally wrote them, so my examples are just of different possibilities and how they affect the meaning. Here is a possible rewrite of your first one:

Friend: A beautiful girl is walking toward me.

Me: Would you talk to her?

Friend: Yes, I would talk to her, and we would hang out and have a good time, and then we would go to a cafe.

All of the places I used "would" here don't make it more polite. You could say they make it more uncertain, though. The way you wrote it is more interesting. In your example, you are agreeing to sort of "live" in the story and imagine it's true. In the conditional, you are just talking about a possibility. So even though you both know that it's imaginary with both these types of language, yours is like you are both agreeing to pretend it's true for a while. Does that make sense?

Your entire second example could be rewritten in the past subjunctive and simple past if you added the word "imagine" at the beginning.

Imagine you were walking down the street and met a beautiful woman. You chatted and had a good time. It seemed like she was the one for you. Would you ask for her number?

The effect here is similar. It makes it less like a story you are agreeing to pretend is true and more like an imaginary scenario you are describing just to find out what your friend would do in that situation. You are keeping the awareness that it's imaginary in the forefront.

The more interesting thing here is that you could leave it in the present tense and still change the final question.

You are walking down the street and meet a beautiful woman. You chat and have a good time. It seems like she is the one for you. Would you ask for her number?

If you say "would you ask for her number" instead of "will you ask for her number," it makes it seem more like you want an answer to the question. That's because it breaks out of the indicative mood that the story is in, which breaks the narrative. You've been imagining the story together. Now, you are breaking out of the story, and you really want to know what your friend would do.

If you say "Will you ask for her number," it could still be part of the story. You might be planning to continue and answer the question yourself. "Will you ask for her number? Yes, you will. Will she give it to you? Yes, she will." This would be even more likely if you said, "Do you ask for her number," because then it would still be in both the same mood and the same tense.

Your last example could all be changed to past subjunctive and simple past, too. That has the same effect as changing your second example that way, so let's just talk about the final "will" in that example. That is one place here where you could use will, would, can, or could!

. . . wipe out anything that will stop them.

Using will here implies that if the aliens don't wipe these things out first, then they will certainly stop the aliens. (The things both want to stop them and can.)

. . . wipe out anything that would stop them.

Using would implies that the things will stop the aliens if they can, but they might or might not be able to, even if the aliens don't wipe them out. (The things want to stop the aliens, but we don't know if they can.)

. . . wipe out anything that can stop them.

Using can implies they are wiping out anything that is definitely able to stop them, whether or not those things have any desire to stop them. (The things can stop the aliens, but we don't know if they want to.)

. . . wiping out anything that could stop them.

Using could makes it a little less certain that the things they are wiping out are actually capable of stopping them. (The things probably can stop the aliens and they might want to, but we aren't completely certain about either one.) This might be the best choice. It makes the aliens really evil. They're wiping out every potential threat, whether or not it's really very threatening.

I'm sorry this was so long, and I know the examples are kind of specific and might be hard to generalize, but I hope it helps!

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  • Thank you for your help and examples. They are super detailed and useful. I love them! About the second example, I can still put "imagine" in the beginning and leave the rest in present tense to make it more vivid like you said? And thank you again for your explanations^^ – vincentlin Dec 8 '17 at 5:49
  • Yes, you could put "imagine" before the present tense and still keep the same sense of vividness. If you and your friends play this game often, they might understand what you're doing without your having to say "imagine," but if you started playing the game with a new person, you might need to tell them to imagine it. I'm glad this helped! I see you are on the Japanese language stackexchange. Are you Japanese? Maybe some day I will ask you to help me better understand when to use wa and ga! – joiedevivre Dec 8 '17 at 10:57
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    Thank you so much for your patience and explanations. I am from Taiwan, but I do know Japanese. The concepts of wa and ga are similar. They are different in some ways because of the subtle grammar characteristics. I am also on the path trying to figure out the secret of them. Let's study them together^^ – vincentlin Dec 9 '17 at 7:48

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