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If my brother calls me and says "Tell mom to pick me up." Do i tell my mom

which of the one below?

I know that wants is present tense and wanted is past tense. So should i use the second one?

  1. Tom wants you to pick him up
  2. Tom wanted you to pick him up
  • 3
    Both are grammatically correct – Sam Harrington May 13 '16 at 16:48
  • 1
    I would prefer using No. 1, but I don't see any reason why you can't use No.2. For example, if your mom asks, "What did he ask (want)?" you can use No.2, – user24743 May 13 '16 at 17:00
25

Both forms are correct, but imply slightly different things.

1.Tom wants you to pick him up

This states that you know for a fact that Tom, at this very instant, wants you to pick him up. You are asserting that that information you have is accurate and current. Example: "I left Tom at the store and he has no way to get home, so he wants you to pick him up."

2.Tom wanted you to pick him up

This indicates that, at some point in the past, Tom wanted you to pick him up, but leaves some degree of questionability as to the currency of that information. One would use this form in the event that one is unsure what Tom wants at this moment. Example: "I left Tom at the store and he wanted you to pick him up, but since that was two hours ago he may have found another ride home."

The above example makes a positive assertion about Tom's wants in the past, but doesn't indicate if that want still exists in the present. Using wanted implies that maybe you should check with Tom before driving around the store parking lot looking for him.

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    I think this is the right answer. We never know what No. 2 would imply without any further context. – user24743 May 13 '16 at 18:18
  • I wonder if it would seem natural for a native speaker to simply say "Tom wanted you to pick him up" - implying the "but I'm unsure if he still wants that" in a silent way. – CowperKettle May 14 '16 at 5:01
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    @CowperKettle: As a native speaker, I would use that to mean "Tom wanted you to pick him up[, but you didn't.]" rather than "Tom wanted you to pick him up[, and maybe he still does.]" They're both reasonable interpretations, though. – Kevin May 14 '16 at 7:10
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Both sentences express accurate information, but they do not express the same information. The first sentence is the one to use because Tom's desire to have your mom pick him up still exists in the present, and your mom would be expected to react to the still-existing desire.

The second sentence suggests that Tom's desire to have your mom pick him up did exist, but no longer does. This would suggest a missed opportunity (Tom made other arrangements). This sentence could also mean that you no longer know if Tom's desire to have your mom pick him up still exists, but without additional context I think it would be more natural to interpret the sentence the other way.

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  • doesn't second sentence just hint at it, not imply? Or am I just used to internet speak? Imply is a strong word. – loa_in_ May 13 '16 at 21:09
  • The past, present, and future walk into a bar...it was tense! – user34121 May 13 '16 at 22:06
  • @loa Was your comment meant for me? I didn't use the word imply. I used "suggest" instead, though not due to the strength of the word so much as because I try to reserve "imply" for intention which is about the choices the speaker makes rather than interpretations made by a listener – Upper_Case May 14 '16 at 2:41
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You should use "wants":

Tom wants you to pick him up.

If you use "wanted", it will mean "Tom wanted you to pick him up, but now he does not want that". This could be because Tom has changed his mind. Or it could mean that it is no longer possible to pick him up: he could still be wanting you to pick him up, but the speaker realizes that it's impossible and uses the past tense.

Why can't we use "wanted"? Because this verb describes a state, a condition in which Tom was.

You can say:

Tom said that he wants you to pick him up.

Here, the past-tense verb "said" is appropriate.

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  • I don't see any problem using "says" in place of "said". Or you can just omit the "says" or "said" part and just say, "Tom wants you to pick him up" if the request is still relevant. – user24743 May 13 '16 at 16:50
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    @Rathony - me neither. I just wanted to illustrate the fact that with "say\says" is it possible to use the past-tense form. – CowperKettle May 13 '16 at 16:52
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    Well, I don't think "he wanted you to pick him up" should not be used. If Mom asks "What did he want (ask)?", "He wanted (asked) you to pick him up" could be used. – user24743 May 13 '16 at 16:54
  • Except that, as mentioned, wanted is still slightly ambiguous. It would be more like "He wanted you to pick him up. As far as I know, he still does." Wanted, in this instance, is perhaps more accurate, depending on the time elapsed between the request and the question. – Raphael diSanto May 13 '16 at 20:52
  • What did he want? For you to pick him up. – nnnnnn May 14 '16 at 2:16
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I disagree with the above interpretations of the sense of this phrase.

Although on a superficial level wants is in the present tense and wanted is in the past tense, there is an important shade of meaning that has nothing to do with the tense.

Consider the following phrase:

I wanted to see if you could help me.

While this certainly could refer to a past desire that I no longer have, it is much more probable that I am using the past polite form. This is common in many modal verbs.

Thus, in the example you gave, a lot depends on context:

Tom wants you to pick him up.

This unambiguously refers to what Tom wants now, but depending on your tone of voice can come off as impolite.

Tom wanted you to pick him up.

This can refer to a past desire, but to my (American) ear sounds much more polite and hesitant, as if he did not have the right to expect you to pick him up.

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  • 1
    There's a difference between "Tom wanted to see if you could pick him up" and "Tom wanted you to pick him up".... as in: "I just got off the phone with tom and he wanted to see if you could pick him up." – Catija May 13 '16 at 19:53
  • @Catija Certainly, but I think the same principle applies. "Tom wanted you to come over to his place" is an invitation. "Tom wants you to come over" is more like a command. – brianpck May 13 '16 at 19:57
  • Sure... it's more like a command... but that doesn't make it one... anyway, in this example we're talking about a kid and that's sort of what kids do... It's not like they have any other choice... What's mom going to do? Leave him there permanently? – Catija May 13 '16 at 20:00

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