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Consider the following sentence:

I got worried because the store was in another city, and I might not be able to get it back to the store and ask for a replacement.

My question is about this part: "I might not be able to get ..." is it the right tense or structure? Because I can use "I might not be able to " for present tense and present situation as well, but the speaker is talking about a past event, and in that period of time "he was not able to get back to .."

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  • @Astralbee is right, you won't get an answer to your specific example. But to help you out with your general question about matching tenses, there's no rule that all tenses have to be the same (if that's what you mean by in agreement). This morning I went shopping, and now I am back home. Sep 19, 2023 at 12:48
  • @Astralbee This is true if there's no direct correlation between the two sentences. In example question, the person expresses his worries in the past, and again he expresses a pissibility of inability to get back to the store [in that past context] NOT [now]. I apprecaite your comments and help. Thank you.
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 19, 2023 at 14:29
  • @sharooz your edit shows some research and reasoning now - that's much better
    – Astralbee
    Sep 19, 2023 at 16:35
  • Your sentence sounds perfectly idiomatic to my American English ear. Although "got worried" indicates that you gradually became worried, which is possible, of course, but with a sentence in isolation about the difficulty of returning an item for replacement, there's no real context to support gradual worry. You could say "I was worried". Sep 21, 2023 at 10:27
  • More on the difference between "was worried" and "got worried". With "got worried" there is usually a mention of something sudden that "triggers" the worry: I got worried when the car started making weird noises or I got worried when you didn't come home on time.. When the cause of the worry is not sudden but was known all along, it would be more idiomatic to use "was worried". When I let my son ride his bike to school alone for the first time, I was worried he would get hurt because drivers do not obey the speed limit and are rushing to work in the morning. Sep 21, 2023 at 10:43

2 Answers 2

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"I might not" is a hypothetical, so don't overthink the tense. In English we can use the past tense to make hypothetical statements about the past or future. For example, "I might have broken my leg" expresses concern over a past action, whereas "I might have a drink" expresses the possibility you might do something in the future.

Your example is a little confusing, but not unusual. It would be clearer if it read:

I was worried that, because the store was in another city, I might not be able to get it back to the store and ask for a replacement.

As it stands, the speaker is describing what they were worried about at the time and may be how an English speaker might speak extemporaneously.

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I got worried because the store was in another city, and I might not be able to get it back to the store and ask for a replacement.

It's not wrong to say "I might not be able to". We say that to talk hypothetically about something in the present,past or future. We say that to express uncertainty when we’re not sure.

Examples:

  • I might not be able to visit you next Sunday.

  • I might not be able to pass the exam now because I haven't read enough.

  • I might not be able to sleep easy tonight.

  • I was under stress yesterday. I visited my mother to the hospital and I might not be able to finish my homework.

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  • I think you're replying to a different question than asked. The OP wants to know whether the first "might not be able to" is correct (specifically about the tense agreement), not whether they need or not need a second one. Sep 19, 2023 at 10:31
  • @MaciejStachowski Hi! I believe that the OP wants to know why we write 'ask'. The sentence is in Simple Past and the OP wonders why we don't write 'asked'. Thank you very much for your opinion. I edited that question but the edit is not visible to you yet. Sep 19, 2023 at 11:12
  • Thank everyone, I asked if "I might not be able" is the write tense here or not? Because the narrater is talking about the past event! I can use "I might not be able" in a present situation as well.
    – Shahrooz
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:22
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    @Shahrooz - There is nothing wrong with might not in your sentence. The speaker was worried (in the past) because there was a risk that, if they needed a replacement after that time, they might not be able to get one. Sep 21, 2023 at 15:55
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    @Shahrooz Hi! I edited again my answer. Additionally, I want to tell you that it's not wrong to say "I got worried because the store was in another city, and I could not get it back to the store and ask for a replacement." Sep 22, 2023 at 6:33

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