When calling someone say as a customer service representative, which sentence is the correct one to choose?

Did you have a moment to talk?


Do you have a moment to talk?

I have heard natives choose the first one but I don't understand as to why they use past tense. Afterall, the person is on the phone right now and should be asked if they are free to talk now, not a time in the past. Any help is appreciated...

  • 1
    Did you have a moment to talk -- no one would say that when asking someone on the phone whether they have time to talk. Why would you say something in the past when you are talking with someone in the present? Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 22:57
  • 4
    @Cookie Monster : You're wrong there. You too Mick.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 23:22
  • 1
    Well, I hear it every day in the office. Might have something to do with Australian English?
    – Maryam
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 23:25
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo If someone asks me "Did you have a moment to talk?", I hope that I would have the presence of mind to answer "Yes, I did; but I don't now." I'll get me coat.
    – Mick
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 0:21
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    @Mick: You're a Brit, right? Dickens would have had no problem with this past tense. It has fallen out of use in England and may be unknown to youngish English speakers elsewhere, but for those of us who spent a good deal of our lives in the 20th century, the backshift of tense there is a form of politeness.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 12:22

1 Answer 1


Although the first usage is uncommon, unlike other commenters, I do believe you may have heard some native speakers employ it, because I think that it is not actually past tense here but a remnant of the past subjunctive mood that still lingers in some dialects, and thus, it sounds very polite. The implication is along the lines of "I was wondering if you had a moment to talk." The speaker is wondering whether you can talk, now, but it's past subjunctive mood, which is indistinguishable from past tense in most English verb conjugation.

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