I am preapring for an exam and having tests. One of the questions in one of the tests was like that:

The air hostess ... the passengers to fasten their seat belts until after the plane ... off.

The right answer is "asked" - "had taken" but I am not sure why. It seems like when the hostess asks plane did not take off yet and she wants the passengers to be fastened even after the plane take off. Why it is not "is asking" and "will take off"? I might be in the same plane and telling to my grandparent who hardly hears.

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    '... is asking ...' + '... has taken ...' is equally as grammatical as '... asked ...' + '... had taken ...'. But not your suggestion. However, it is not wise for contributors to answer questions about why examiners etc want certain answers when others are equally justifiable; that must be taken up with the examiners. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 16 '20 at 20:22
  • Questioning examiners about their choice of answer, especially those who are not native English speakers, is mighty tricky. This is even more so if the examiner is uncertain and takes the question as a challenge to authority. Sometimes you just have to live with their whims. My fluently bilingual Anglo/German niece was outraged when the English teacher in her German school marked a sentence, using overnight as a verb, wrong. Although the teacher was well educated, she wasn't familiar with idiomatic English, nor did she take kindly to being challenged by a pupil. – Ronald Sole Feb 16 '20 at 21:38
  • I agree with your claim that there are a number of possible solutions to the problem. If you were being asked for “the most likely in English language idiom” then the answer is probably “asked/had taken” but “asks/has taken” and “is asking/has taken” and even “warned/had taken” are close contenders too. But if any combination was allowed then there are many possibilities that envisage unlikely contexts: (drunk passengers are out of their seats arguing) “The air hostess pleaded with the passengers...”, – Orbital Aussie Feb 16 '20 at 21:44
  • @EdwinAshworth. I disagree with your bald statement of what constitutes wisdom here and your use of must and worry when we stray into unsolicited advice beyond our remit. – Orbital Aussie Feb 16 '20 at 22:38
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    @Orbital Aussie Perhaps I should explain that I taught and attended moderation courses for quite a number of years; I'm aware that some exam questions have been set where the required answer and the one/s a specialist in the subject would say were acceptable did not match exactly. And having been on ELU quite a time, I'm aware that some questions are based on 'I got this marked wrong. Why?' scenarios. 'Comments' are places where OPs may be offered help, even when the question is off-topic. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '20 at 12:33

"is asking" is grammatically correct. It should probably be paired with a present tense: "takes off" or "has taken off" (but not will take off because that doesn't match with the "after" which means that the take-off must be in the past of the time when the air hostess finishes asking)

But this context is unusual. There are many grammatically correct constructions that are rare in practice. If I was presented with this as a question, I would guess it was a description of events in the past and not a commentary on events in the present, since that is a far more likely situation. You must take this up with the examiners if you want details.


James K is incorrect. The tense of “ask” and “take off” off do not need to match. They do not occur at the same time. As to whether “is asking” vs “asked” depends upon when it occurred in relation to that statement by the observer. If its concurrent, for instance is a passenger is translating to another passenger what the air hostess is saying at that moment, it would be “is asking”. In any other circumstance I can think of at thus point in time, “asked” would be correct. Unless its a prediction...”will ask” would then be correct.

  • That's not exactly what James K said. He said "It should probably be paired with a present tense", meaning simple present, present perfect, etc. neither of which match "is asking" (present continuous). – CJ Dennis Mar 20 '20 at 6:42

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