"Now, ladies, imagine yourself being seen by a 60 year-old man doctor. He asked you many strange and uncomfortable questions. How would you feel? "

I used the past tense to describe an imaginary situation without the second if conditional, is this okay?

  • 2
    I think it's okay to use the past tense "asked," but only if you match it in the first sentence with another past tense: "...imagine you were being seen...." If you have the present tense "being seen" in the first sentence, then you have to match it with present tense "he asks" in the second. On an unrelated note, "man doctor" sounds a bit odd: I'd say "male doctor." Feb 14, 2018 at 20:07
  • Keep it in the present tense. You are asked to imagine something happening now, not a hypothetical occurrence in the past which complicates the tenses - the doctor did not ask "how did you feel". The question "how would you feel?" is inapplicable to the past. He asks you many strange and uncomfortable questions. How would you feel? Feb 14, 2018 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


The comment by Canadian Yankee is correct. You need to say "imagine you were being seen."

To elaborate, the words "if" and "imagine" can both introduce the past subjunctive. For example, the following sentence uses "imagine" with what I believe language courses call the second conditional:

Imagine she were being seen by a male doctor. Would she feel uncomfortable with these questions?

In other words, I believe you do have a type of second conditional in your sentences; it just isn't being introduced by "if." Here are some other examples of types of expressions that can introduce conditional statements.

In your example the second sentence is a continuation of the conditional that you already set up in your first sentence. There's an ellipsis:

Now, ladies, imagine you were being seen by a 60 year-old male doctor. (Imagine) He asked you many strange and uncomfortable questions. How would you feel?
  • That is not the past tense, it is the subjunctive. You don't imagine the past. Feb 14, 2018 at 21:31
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    @WeatherVane Where did I say it was past tense? I said "past subjunctive." Feb 14, 2018 at 21:38

This is largely a question of narrative style. You can treat it as a hypothetical situation (the verb imagine allows you to do this without an if), in which case you should use the subjunctive (if available) or the past

Alternatively, you can ask the reader to imagine that, right now, these things are happening, and describe in the present tense. This style is often used when telling jokes, for example:

A guy walks into a bar and asks for ten shots of the establishment's finest single malt scotch. The bartender sets him up, and the guy takes the first shot in the row and pours it on the floor. He then takes the last one in the and does the same. The bartender asks him, "Why did you do that?" And the guy replies, " Well the first shot always tastes like crap, and the last one always makes me sick!"

Whatever you do, you have to be consistent throughout the narrative.

"Now, ladies, imagine that you were seen by a 60 year-old male doctor, and he asked you many strange and uncomfortable questions. How would you feel? "

"Now, ladies, imagine that you are seen by a 60 year-old male doctor. He asks you many strange and uncomfortable questions. How would you feel? "

Like if, the hypothetical effects of imagine only last for the current sentence: that's why I have joined the two sentences together in the first example. An alternative would be to maintain the hypothetical mood by repeating "Imagine that.." at the start of each sentence. The hypothetical construction would therefore be difficult for a long scenario, unless you particularly want to keep repeating the "Imagine" for dramatic effect, as in the John Lennon song (which incidentally uses present tense). Otherwise, present tense would be preferable.

Note that "How would you feel?" must always be hypothetical, even in a present-tense narrative, because the listener's emotions are not part of the narrative.

  • I don't understand why you would say that the hypothetical effects of "imagine" can only last for a single sentence. They can be obvious for many sentences in either present or past, and neither is always preferable. Imagine you were seeing a doctor. He asked you uncomfortable questions. He seemed to touch your breasts much longer than necessary. In addition, after a hypothetical narrative in present tense, it's grammatical to ask "How do you feel?" instead of "How would you feel?" In this situation with the doctor, asking "how do you feel?" would just further enhance the creepy effect. Feb 15, 2018 at 8:12
  • @joiedevivre: sorry, the "He asked..", "He seemed.." don't work for me unless preceded directly by "Imagine that...". I do accept that "How do you feel" is grammatical, but in my opinion a break from the present-tense is necessary to parenthesize the request for the listener to analyse their own feelings from the narrative. I accept that it's a question of style and maybe my style is different to yours.
    – JavaLatte
    Feb 15, 2018 at 14:35

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