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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."

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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.

  • What would you say? – franziska bohn Sep 14 '18 at 19:14
  • I would backshift to wanted and was. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 14 '18 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? – franziska bohn Sep 14 '18 at 19:56
  • @franziskabohn I would say "I would not be asking you what you want to eat". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 14 '18 at 20:01
  • Ok. But it I were to say: “If i knew what you wanted I wouldn’t be asking you what you wanted” —> would that make me seem like I know nothing about English? – franziska bohn Sep 15 '18 at 8:15
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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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