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What is the difference between "did you" and "do you" in the following two sentences:

Did you want to schedule a meeting?
Do you want to schedule a meeting?

I can't understand this usage for "do you" and "did you" which seems to be very common. Clarification is appreciated!

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"Do you want to schedule a meeting?" is very straightforward. It is inquiring if the person wants to schedule a meeting.

"Did you want to schedule a meeting?" is more complicated and the meaning can change depending on the context as well as the inflection.

It could be inquiring if what you did was actually what you intended to do.

Sir, I'm calling from the bank. We noticed you scheduled a bill payment of $100,000. Did you want to schedule it for that much?

It could be asking what you want you want. Essentially synonymous with "do you"

Sir, I'm calling from the bank. I got your message to call you about the loan we discussed. Did you want to go ahead and proceed?

It could also be discussing something you weren't able to do and inquiring if you had wanted to.

You seem upset that we went to the movie last night while you were at work. Did you want to go with us?

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Yes, those are very common. They are so fundamental to the English language that you will hardly be able to speak any English at all without them.

First of all, did is the past tense form of the verb to do (which is also used as an auxiliary verb to help form questions in English). When you say that you did something, you're talking about something that happened in the past. Do is the present tense form of the verb to do. It's used to talk about present tense situations.

Did you want to schedule a meeting?

What you're asking in this question is that you would like to know whether the person you're talking to wanted to schedule a meeting. In other words, you would like to know whether the action of wanting to schedule a meeting took place in the past. What specifically makes this a past tense situation is the fact that you're using did which is the past tense form of the auxiliary verb to do. A question beginning with did is enough to turn the entire sentence into a question asking about something that happened in the past. All subsequent verbs in the sentence keep their "present tense" form.

Do you want to schedule a meeting?

It's exactly the same thing here, but instead of did (past) you're using do (present). Again, you would like to know whether the person you're talking to wants to schedule a meeting. You're not asking whether they WANTED (past) to schedule a meeting, but whether they WANT (present) to schedule a meeting. The action of wanting to schedule a meeting has not happened yet. Can you see this past/present verb difference now?

  • Thank you for the response. In the first sentence I understood that the "question" is in present but the "desire –i.e. schedule a meeting" is in the past. While in the second sentence, the question and the desire are in the present. Is this correct? – goro Mar 20 '18 at 21:49
  • @goro Yes, you are correct. I made some changes to my answer that hopefully reflect that idea better now. – Michael Rybkin Mar 20 '18 at 22:21
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PRESENT TENSE

Declarative: I schedule meetings on Mondays.

Interrogative: Do you schedule meetings on Mondays? Yes, I do.

Declarative: I understand you.

Interrogative: Do you understand me? Yes, I do.

SIMPLE PAST TENSE

Declarative: I scheduled meetings on Mondays.

Interrogative: Did you schedule meetings on Monday? Yes, I did.

Declarative: I understood you.

Interrogative: Did you understand me? Yes, I do.

In English questions, you need an auxiliary verb and a main verb (except for the verb be which works differently).

In the present, the auxiliary for an action verb is DO or DOES [third person]. Do you want some coffee? Does he want coffee?

In the past, the auxiliary is DID.

Did you want some coffee?

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In the usual context for such questions, one colleague to another, the literal meaning isn't that relevant. In both cases, one may have a desire to schedule a meeting, the other is inquiring.

The former phrasing might in fact mean:

You came to interrupt my busy afternoon to speak to me about this thing. I am picking up a sense of urgency and frustration that suggests you want to discuss this further. Did you come and importune me with the underlying motive of having a long discussion about this? [and] if so, I would prefer that we schedule a meeting.

Or possibly:

I have the impression you broached this topic intending to ask for a further meeting to discuss its ramifications, however you haven’t mentioned it. I’m asking to give you the chance to remember that, rather than suggest it more directly myself. Did you mean to ask to schedule a meeting?

The latter could in fact mean:

Now that I’ve enlightened you about the matter and you realise it is more complex than you originally thought, do you think it needs to be discussed further?

But in the absence of such subtexts, asking whether someone has the desire now or has had the desire for a while really matters very little at all. Don’t get hung up on it.

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In my opinion:

"Did you want to schedule a meeting?" is slightly more polite or deferential.

"Do you want to schedule a meeting?" is more direct.

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