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Is a sentence like

He asked if I would lend him my car.

correct, or should it be

He asked if I lent him my car.

or something else?

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These two sentences have different meanings. In the first, he wanted to borrow your car; in the second, he questioned you about whether he (presumably a different person) had already borrowed the car at the time. Both sound grammatical to me (though if I were saying this, I'd insert "had", as in "he asked if I had lent him my car"); the latter, however, is confusing. Can you be more specific about the meaning you want to discuss? – aedia λ Aug 31 '11 at 21:55
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The conditional can definitely be used after "if". See below, for further examples:

He asked if I might be free on Wednesday night .
He asked if it was possible for the dog to run around at the park.
She asked if there was any ice-cream available.

Both of your examples are correct, they just mean different things.

The first is asking if the person is willing to lend the car, and this is used when requesting for something for a time later on e.g. I need a car on Wednesday. Today is Monday, and I don't need the car yet. But I can ask anyway, so I would have to use "would".

The second is asking if the person has already lent the car, that is, does the person who requested have the thing requested? e.g. He asked if I lent him my car. So, did you give your car to him or did you not? This request acts in the instant, and doesn't refer to a future time.

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The conditional mood is used after if in indirect questions; if is also used together a modal verb to express a polite request.

She asked if we would like some coffee.
If I could trouble you for your names?
If you wouldn't mind giving him a message?

It is also used to express disappointment.

If I could just be left alone.

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