Native English speakers: What is the difference between "want" and "wanted" in the sentence below? Is my understanding correct?
Look at these two sentences below.
a. If you want to write a book, what kind of book will you write?
b. If you wanted to write a book, what kind of book would you write?
My understanding is that (a) is a question only for people who want to write a book. If you don't have a plan, you don't answer this question.
In contrast, (b) is a question for everyone. The past tense, 'wanted', shows that this sentence is talking about an imaginary situation, so even though you don't have a plan to write a book, you should answer it.
Thank you. I'd appreciate your feedback.
- bluebellbkkLv 75 months agoBest answer
Your understanding of the difference is basically correct. The people who talk about 'wanted' as reflecting a Past situation are not familiar with the concept of the Conditional sentence.
If you want to write a book, what kind of book WILL you write?
If you win the game, what WILLyou do with the prize money?
In both these examples, the speaker is thinking of writing or winning as something possible, though not yet settled.
If you WANTED to write a book, what kind of book WOULD you write?
If you WON the game, what WOULD you do with the prize money?
In these examples, the speaker thinks that writing and winning, while still possible, are unlikely to happen.
In both cases, 'wanted' and 'won', while Past in form, are an essential part of the Second Conditional: an unlikely future event.
Third Conditional, which is barely used in the USA even by educated people, refers to Past 'unreal' situations:
If you HAD WANTED to write a book [but you didn't], what kind of book WOULD you HAVE WRITTEN?
If you HAD WON the game [but you didn't], what WOULD you HAVE DONE with the money?
In short, you've correctly understood the basic difference between your own two sentences. The first reflects a possible, even likely, outcome, while the second reflects a possible but UNlikely outcome.
- ZirpLv 75 months ago
I agree with bluebellbkk. The one with "want" assumes that you want to write a book. The one with "wanted" doesn't. It's a conditional
- CrustyCurmudgeonLv 75 months ago
Uhh, NO. Want is present tense, Wanted is past tense. Technically, b. excludes people who no longer want to write a book, while a. is inclusive, assuming that the want did not occur at the exact moment the question was presented. Neither is subjunctive mood (imaginary or wishful thinking).
If b. were restated "If you have always wanted to write a book...). they would be equivalent.
- LizLv 55 months ago
Want is present (happening now) tense and wanted is past (already happened) tense.
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- American AtheistLv 65 months ago
want is present tense, wanted is past tense, therefore in example a) you currently want to write a book, in example b) you have wanted to write a book in the past
- 5 months ago
In my opinion want is something of the present. Wanted it's a longing for.