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I heard native speakers use present tense in the following sentence.

  • Would it be alright if I take a rain check?
  • Would it be alright if I call you Annie?
  • But I think the correct grammar is took and called. Are there any circumstances to allow present tense in subjunctives?
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      Seems they want to do it right now, your suggestions, at least for me, seems they are asking they could have called in the past, but they want to do it right now.
      – Jandrei
      Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 12:53
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      You are correct - but questions like those are asked in informal conversation, in which people are often careless about grammar. Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 12:57
    • This may answer your question.
      – tvk
      Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 14:02
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      In such informal contexts, the speaker's mind is pretty much made up (there is no or little element of real doubt, which would trigger the subjunctive) and there are gauging whether the interlocutor would terribly mind or not.
      – Deipatrous
      Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 10:01
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      Important tip: Most guides consider "alright" a slang contraction. The correct spelling is "all right."
      – user8356
      Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:05

    4 Answers 4

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    Technically speaking you're asking for now or the future, which would be to use the present tense "call"...

    But if we've done it in the past such as when we were speaking to somebody else about you then it would be "called".

    Although most people would not notice if you used call or called interchangeably in this type of situation.

    The same would be true with taking a rain check... Although the difference convey between them can mean something slightly different...

    If you ask in the past tense it means that your mind is already made up that you wish to take a rain check... Do you mind if I took a rain check... It means there is less room for negotiation... Do you mind if I take a rain check? Is truly asking whether or not they will mind and wanting to have a conversation about it. It can convey that you are willing to explain why you want to take a rain check... Whereas do you mind if I took a rain check conveys more that it's an open and shut case and that you are not necessarily willing to negotiate or discuss it further.

    So sometimes saying something in the past tense, although it is not technically correct, can add a weight to what you're saying in the sense of conveying that it is not negotiable and therefore the decision has already been made and you are just pretending at niceties. (Which maybe what you are doing with the first example as well... Which is why, not only is it more correct, but also more polite, to ask in the present tense, if you may do something.)

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    As you mentioned, this is the subjunctive mood. The prescriptive answer would be that the past tense "should" be used. However mixing the tenses doesn't prevent the message getting across so native speakers may say it either way without consequence.

    You can think of the subjunctive as a way of placing the events being described in an imaginary/alternate place. This is called the irrealis mood. This softens the message because it creates distance from what's happening right now. It's almost as if you're delaying asking the question for real. i.e. "I'm not saying this is real, so it's ok if you say no."

    Whereas it's also technically valid to say: "Will it be ok if I take a rain check?" This makes the question more direct and concrete. It also carries a subtle implication that you think the answer should be a yes and you're asking if they will penalize you for it.

    Some of the other answers are discussing the actual past tense in the sense of speaking about the past. In this case you would say something like "Would it have been ok if I had called you Annie?"

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    Present Tense

    Would it be alright if I take a rain check?

    • Would it be alright if I request [present tense] for a future opportunity [noun]?
    • Would it be alright if I get [present tense] a voucher for later [noun]?
    • Would it be alright if I reschedule [present tense] (the event) [noun]?

    Would it be alright if I call you Annie?

    The verb is possibly used as a present tense subjunctive, by taking the infinitive form and removing "to". (See present tense Subjunctive below)

    • Would it be alright if I were to call you Annie?

    Either way, they are asking for permission to call her "Annie" from this point (in time) forward.

    Past Tense

    • Would it be alright if I took a rain check?
    • Would it be alright if I called you Annie?

    These sentences could be understood two different ways depending on context:

    1. You are right that the speaker could be using the subjunctive mood that suggests a desire for things to be different than the currently are.  (see Subjunctives below)

    2. However, the speaker could be asking if what they did in the past was allowed or acceptable.

      • Would it be alright if I took [past tense] your car yesterday?
      • Would it be alright if I called [past tense] you Annie (in the book I wrote)?
      • Would it be alright if I left [past tense] the oven on (before I went to work)?

    Subjunctives

    "Are there any circumstances to allow present tense in subjunctives?"

    Present Tense Subjunctives

    This snippet below from gymglish.com1 has a good answer for your question about present tense subjunctives:

    The present subjunctive is used in constructions such as:

    They suggested that he come with them.

    In English, the present subjunctive functions independently of time. It is formed by taking the infinitive form of the verb and removing "to".

    Subjunctive Mood

    This snippet from Wikipedia has a good explanation of what defines subjunctive mood 2.

    The subjunctive is a grammatical mood, a feature of the utterance that indicates the speaker's attitude towards it. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as: wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred.


    [1] https://www.gymglish.com/en/gymglish/english-grammar/the-subjunctive-present-tense

    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive_mood

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      This answer has misinformation. 1) You write "The verb is used as an infinitive", but it is actually a finite verb. 2) You include a quotation from gymglish about the present subjunctive in a that-clause, but OP was asking about the present indicative in an if-clause, a very different construction. 3) Your examples under "past tense" #2 are possible but unlikely; for example, if "took" were really describing past action, then much more likely would be: "Would it have been alright if I took your car yesterday?" Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 23:54
    • @MarcInManhattan, thank you for your comment. 1) Answer adjusted to show the infinitive explained in the present tense subjunctive section. 2) The OP specifically asked about this. Furthermore, the linked reference provides more examples that do not use a "that" clause. 3) Likelihood is irrelevant. Context is key. The question is what are the differences in meaning and what are phrases are grammatically acceptable. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 5:02
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      2) OP did NOT ask about the present subjunctive. We know that because he or she specifically asks about "present tense", whereas the present subjunctive always uses the infinitive form, not a tensed form. For example, the example you cite from gymglish uses "he come", and the linked gymglish page uses the infinitive forms "be", "go", and "save". None of those is in the present tense. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 13:48
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      3) The point that I was making had nothing to do with likelihood; your version and mine both use "would". The issue is with sequencing of events. Your version says would it be alright now if something happened yesterday, whereas mine says would have been alright yesterday if something happened yesterday. As I said, your version is grammatically correct, but it is less likely. Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 13:52
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    Those are the examples of the spoken AmE or BrE when smbd asking for advice. Both types of utterances are possible in the spoken conversation. Though, the utterance having the Present tense in the if clause has got a grammatical typo if it is in the written form . The written sentence usually looks as this: "Would it be allright? Err... If I take a raincoat ?" in many cases; or the way you showed it in your request because of the mistakes of auditory perception due to the lack of the colloquial speech's practice.

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