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Context:

I am talking to my friends, trying to find out what she wants to eat tonight.

"What do you want to eat tonight?"
"You know what I want to eat."
"If I knew what you wanted to eat, I wouldn't be asking you what you wanted to eat."

I am wondering about "wanted" and "wanted" should they be in the present tense? Maybe this is better:

"If I knew what you want to eat, I wouldn't be asking you what you want to eat."

2 Answers 2

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Both wanted and want are grammatical there. Some speakers backshift to the past tense in the if-clause, while others do not.

I wouldn't be asking if I knew what you want(ed).

If I knew what you want(ed), I wouldn't be asking.

If I knew what it is, I wouldn't ask.

If I knew what it was, I wouldn't ask.

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  • What would you say? Sep 14, 2018 at 19:14
  • 1
    I would backshift to wanted and was.
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 19:54
  • in this sentence: "If I knew what you wanted to eat, I wouldn't be asking you what you wanted to eat" Should the second sentence be backshifted as well? Sep 14, 2018 at 19:56
  • @franziskabohn I would say "I would not be asking you what you want to eat".
    – TimR
    Sep 14, 2018 at 20:01
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    @franziskabohn : That repetition of what you wanted is idiomatic in certain contexts; however, it would have some emotional payload, such as impatience, irritation, vexation, or possibly the opposite, solicitude, if you were explaining yourself to someone who is slow to understand, and you were trying to calm them. But if there were no such context, you could seem like someone who is learning English, who does not know that the statement could end idiomatically with the phrase ....I wouldn't be asking.
    – TimR
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:12
-1

Ok.

I’ll provide context.

My child is annoying me. I ask her what she wants to eat.

If I knew what you wanted to eat, I wouldn’t be asking you what you wanted to eat!!!

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