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When we talk about an imaginary scenario, can we use tenses as we normally do to tell the listener the timings of the imaginary events?

By the way, do different subjects like those in the examples (a person and I) affect anything regarding tense use and grammar (I mean, anything else from the subject-verb agreement)?


Example 1 is using present tense to indicate the imaginary present and past tense to indicate the imaginary past.

Example 1:

My friend: What are you doing?

Me:

(Telling my friend an imaginary scenario) A person meets a beautiful girl. He is talking to her. Two days ago, they once met at a library. She was reading a book. He didn't know what the book was about. Now it seems like they can hang out because a moment ago, he found that she was reading a book he likes. They will have a lot to talk about.


Example 2 is using past subjunctive mood to indicate the different timings.

Example 2:

My friend: What are you doing?

Me:

(Telling my friend an imaginary scenario) I met a beautiful girl. I (was or were?) talking to her. Two days ago, we had met at a library. She had been reading a book. I hadn't known what the book had been about. Now it seemed like we could hang out because a moment ago, I just had found that she had been reading a book I like. We would have a lot to talk about.

  • You should remove the first "meets" or "met" - I think that is confusing. Without that it is easier to understand what is going on. You could start by saying "He is talking to a beautiful girl." and "I was talking to a ..." – AIQ Jun 1 at 4:05
  • So you are suggesting that without the first "meets" and "mets", the rests are ok, right? Even the original examples are correct but just somewhat unnatural, right? – vincentlin Jun 1 at 6:55
  • Your imaginary situation is not answer to "What are you doing?". You could reply, "I am meeting a beautiful girl" or "I have just met a beautiful girl". You have to express somehow that the situation is imaginary, though. It isn't clear without context. – Micah Windsor Jun 1 at 23:37
  • Yeah, I know. I phrased it like that on purpose. How about adding two sentences to the original examples to make the context more clear: My friend: What are you talking about? The girl thing? Me: I was imagining things. Don't mind me. – vincentlin Jun 2 at 2:00
  • @vincentlin I think one change you should make at the outset is turn "What are you doing?" to "What are you thinking?". To get to the errors in the actual content, you need to fix other errors that make it hard to understand the question. – AIQ Jun 2 at 8:11
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+50

These "imaginary scenes" sound like blurbs publishers post inside dust jackets on books and elsewhere. Example 1 is fine except for this one sentence:

Two days ago, they once met at a library.

I think you mean: They met once at a library.

"They once met..." gives the impression that at some point in the past they met. "They met once..." gives the impression that they met only once, not twice or several times.

The tenses are fine.

I would edit Example 2.

I met a beautiful girl. I was talking to her.

Say "was" rather than "were" because "was" is singular and goes with "I." "I" is also singular.

Two days ago, we had met at a library. She had been reading a book. I hadn't known what the book was about.

I changed "had been" to "was" in "I hadn't known what the book had been about." You don't need "had been" twice in that sentence; it's too convoluted and "doubles over" the past tense.

Now it seemed like we could hang out because a moment ago, I just found that she had been reading a book I like. We would have a lot to talk about.

I removed "had" from "I just had found that she had been reading..." This is another case of "doubling over."

NOTE: I am not sure of the proper grammar terms; I base my answer on lifelong use of the English language, including advanced degree in the arts and humanities.

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  • Thank you for your to-the-point answer. It really clears up my confusion. Hope you have a good day^^ – vincentlin Jun 3 at 9:15
  • You're welcome! – Sarah Bowman Jun 3 at 13:41
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It is not a case of as you have called them imaginary situations, if we take your examples into consideration. Such case is embraced in such section of the grammar as stories, commentaries and instructions. Present tenses are often used informally to tell stories. The simple present is used for the events – the things that happen one after another. The present progressive is used for ‘background’ – things that are already happening when the story starts, or that continue through the story. Such style requires the observance of some rules that have been in breach with in your examples.

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  • Would you be more precise about the rules broken? Maybe you can teach me how to tell an imaginary scenario that have several timings, because things can happen at different times, right? – vincentlin Jun 1 at 10:24
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    It's nothing wrong with your guestions. Pls, go on. But, I am afraid that moderator shall ask us to stop the discussion in the short commentaries part of the page. It is contrary to the regulations of the site. The part with stories, commentaries and instructions starts from I meet a beautiful girl. – kngram Jun 3 at 18:34
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    The previous post was originally the reply to kngram's "No. it's an informal speech..." I accidentally deleted it. Fortunately, I had backed it up, so I posted it again. I hope it serves as a reference for other learners. – vincentlin Jun 5 at 9:40
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    The text begins with a past tense verbal group, which sets up the reference time for the story - it happened in the past, when the speaker visited the library. The next finite verbal groups use present tense, as they describe the layout of what happened in the library at the time of that meeting with the girl.The initial verbal phrases of the text set up the time reference of the story by providing background information (orientation) that the listener needs to understand the story that follows. – kngram Jun 5 at 13:31
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    It is impossible to unscrew why it is so in some logical manner. These are conventions and rules of the informal vocal speech in the UK for some contexts, which have developed spontaneously over many, many years and have been described by language scholars. – kngram Jun 5 at 13:32

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