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If I would like to make requests, should I use “I was wondering…” instead of “I am wondering…” and “I wonder…”? If yes, what’s the most appropriate situation to use “I am wondering…” and “I wonder…”?

  • Welcome to ELL! This isn't a forum, so we try to avoid open-ended, "getting to know you" questions like "What’s the most pragmatically inappropriate experience you have ever had". However, your first question seems fine, so I've edited it down to that. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 1 '16 at 20:14
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    I'm no native but I guess, "I was wondering" is more polite / humble whereas both "I'm wondering" and "I wonder" could be anywhere on the politeness-aggressiveness range. – V-R Feb 1 '16 at 21:01
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    I don't see any difference in politeness. It is just a matter of whether the act of wondering happened in the past, or if it's still happening at the moment you are speaking. A very subtle distinction that rarely makes any difference to the point you're trying to make or question you're going to ask (which is usually, has the other guy got his part of the job done yet, or not). – The Photon Feb 1 '16 at 22:57
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    I agree with @V-R. I think there is a subtle difference in the politeness. The more remote the request from the immediate present, the less insistent it becomes. I'm wondering...I wonder...I was wondering... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 2 '16 at 13:54
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While technically the three phrases differ in tense, they all have the same meaning. I'd suspect that "I was wondering" is used most often, followed by "I wonder". "I am wondering" would probably be reserved for cases where you're really perplexed because it suggests the wonder continued over a longer period of time.

  • David, you might want to add this to your answer: books.google.com/ngrams/… – shin Feb 2 '16 at 5:25
  • @shin It's not that helpful because likely in most cases the use of the phrase "I wonder" is to indicate actual wonder, not to make requests. – David Schwartz Feb 2 '16 at 15:00
  • Oh, sorry if my comment above wasn't that clear. I was suggesting to include it, and provide comparison with actual usage. And it's a good point to provide a note regarding the comment you mentioned on 'I wonder...'. Thanks for notifying! – shin Feb 2 '16 at 15:24
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"I was wondering" can be used to make indirect polite requests. For example: "I was wondering if I could borrow your book." "I was wondering if you could drive me to the airport."

"I wonder" is not used for indirect requests. It is usually used to express your thoughts, such as "I wonder if he would let me borrow his book." "I wonder what happened."

"I'm wondering" is used like "I wonder" but denotes the present progressive, such as "I'm wondering what to do next."

  • I wonder if I might borrow your book. Here might softens the "bluntness" of the simple present. – Alan Carmack Jul 2 '16 at 13:40

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