Are there any differences between the two sentences:
1. I was wondering if you could collect the data for the meeting.
2. I wonder if you could collect the data for the meeting.

Is it possible to say I "am" wondering...?

Thank you very much!
Original Post
There is a small difference. Using a past tense – "I was wondering" – is a way to distance a request from the immediate time. Because the request is made to seem less urgent on the part of the speaker, it is less demanding of immediate action by the hearer; thus the speaker considers it more polite.

"I wonder if" is not so direct either; it is quite mild. However, it is a bit stronger than "I was wondering if."

Here is a loose hierarchy of levels, from least demanding to most demanding, of strength in some requests/ commands:

"¢ I was wondering if you could/ might bring your van over next week so you could help me move.

"¢ I wonder if you could/ might bring your van over next week so you could help me move.

"¢ I was thinking that you might bring your van over next week so you could help me move.

"¢ Do you think you could/ might bring your van over next week so you could help me move?

(about equal to this next request: )

"¢ Would you mind bringing your van over next week so you could help me move?

"¢ I would appreciate it if you could bring your van over next week to help me move. (depends a lot on tone and context)

"¢ Could you please bring your van over next week so you could help me move?

"¢ Bring your van over next week. I need you to help me move.

These are just spontaneously generated examples. The Grammar Exchange is wondering whether you readers might submit more examples and comments on this subject. We would appreciate that.

Rachel
In my opinion there is a very slight and subtle difference between 1 and 2.

"I wonder (if) and "I was wondering (if)" are both courtesy expressions used to preface a request. As a general rule, the longer (more ornate) courtesy expression, the more polite the request is.

The effect is quite interesting. The question becomes less direct, thus giving the other person more freedom to (possibly) reject the request without anybody being offended. However, at the same time, the speaker hopes to make the request so politely that the other party is almost obliged to respond positively.

Some examples (increasingly more polite):

A) Can you lend me your pen?
B) Could you lend me your pen?
C) Could you please lend me your pen?
D) Could you possibly lend me your pen?
E) I wonder if you could (possibly) lend...
F) I was wondering if you could (possibly)...
G) If it isn't too much trouble, do you think you might be able to...?

As to "I'm wondering" -- I can't think of a case in which we would use this. Shifting backward is another way in which we make requests more polite:
can -> could
will-> would

Hope this helps,
Rob
Yes, "I am wondering" can be used as a request, too. There are 598,000 examples on Google of "I wonder if," many of them requests like these:

"¢ I am wondering if you can tell me if there is anyway that I can stop the pop ups that appear on my screen at all times when i am the web? It drives me crazy. Thanks for your time and hopefully your help.

"¢ I am wondering if you could send me some info on Energy Efficient Homes?

There are 5 times as many, though, for "I was wondering if," like these:

"¢ Hey I was wondering if you guys here could help me out alil Topic
Summary: Created

"¢ have you any suggestions as to what she could sing? [ ]; I was wondering if you
could recommend some wedding bands that would cater for all tastes

_______

Rachel
___________
Thnaks for the answers and the additional information. Two more questions here. Is "I am wondering.." as polite as "I was wondering.."? Also, as I read the sentences, I noticed that "I am wondering.." can go with "could". Is it grammatically correct?
1. The English tense (Past tense) and aspect (Progressive) contribute to achieving tentativeness, each in its own way.

The past tense is itself negative in time (not-now-ness); it always reminds one of a time gap between then and now. This gap does the trick in distancing a request from the immediate now. It makes the hearer feel as if he were facing a past request, and makes him feel a lot less guilty to refuse if he wants to.

The progressive aspect reminds one of a temporary state or event. Anything temporary is not final or permanent, or has not lasted a long time; it can be modified or even stopped if necessary. It's much easier for the hearer to refuse when faced with a temporary request than when faced with a long-cherished one, isn't it?

That's how the past tense and progressive aspect makes a request polite - psychologically.

So "I wonder" is the least tentative (with neither of the two tentativeness contributors present), "I was wondering" is the most tentative (with 2 tentativeness contributors), and "I am wondering" comes in between (with one tentativeness contributor).

2. "Could" in "I was wondering if you could/might bring your van over next week so you could help me move".

One uses "could", "might" etc instead of "can" and "may" just to be consistent in making a tentative request; "could" sounds more tentative than "can".

3. Note that all the talk here about making a tentative request is relative. Compared to a command "Come here and help me with it", "can you come here and help me with it?" and "I wonder if you can come here and help me with it" are both tentative requests.

Chuncan Feng
China
Last edited by Chuncan Feng

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