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Should I say 'What I wanted to say is' or 'What I wanted to say was'?

Which one is correct:

Introduce additional user interface widget so that it was possible to enter phone number

or

Introduce additional user interface widget so that it is possible to enter phone number

I noticed that the first form is often used by my english-speaking manager when he asks me do do something (defining tasks), but on the other hand, the second form seems to be more widely used elsewhere.

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marked as duplicate by jwpat7, kiamlaluno, FumbleFingers, Mitch, Daniel Dec 19 '11 at 20:36

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
The second one, but only because this is an imperative sentence as written. I don't think your question is clear enough for you to get a useful answer. –  Peter Shor Dec 18 '11 at 19:02
    
@Peter Shor: You mean if it was not imperative form it would be correct use? Could you please give me an example? –  user16143 Dec 19 '11 at 7:24
    
I believe he means that both are wrong if they are not treated as commands; and if taken as commands, the second is correct, the first not. –  jwpat7 Dec 19 '11 at 8:38
1  
I mean that if you think of this as a sentence fragment, and not the start of a sentence, then it's not enough information to know which tense to use. For example, "I had to introduce ..." and "We must introduce ..." would need the tenses "was" and "is", respectively. –  Peter Shor Dec 19 '11 at 11:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Saying

Introduce additional user interface widget so that it was possible to enter phone number

is like saying

Make a change now so that we could have entered a phone number yesterday

which while desirable, ordinarily cannot be done. The speech pattern of incorrectly using "was" instead of "is" is a common colloquial or informal pattern. A couple of reasons to not try correcting your boss are (1) In spite of the wording being improper, its meaning is clear; (2) some people resent being corrected in any way by subordinates -- or by anyone, for that matter.

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Whatever happened to would be? '... so that it would be possible to ...'

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"Introduce additional user interface widget so that it would be possible to enter phone number" ? –  user16143 Dec 19 '11 at 9:44
    
Bad in grammar? Too complicated wording? I find that the most natural way to convey the idea, though. –  Kris Dec 19 '11 at 9:46
    
It's ok - I just wanted to be sure that what I understand is what you actually mean :) –  user16143 Dec 19 '11 at 10:38

If you want to be pedantic, you can use the subjunctive: "Introduce additional user interface widget so that it be possible to enter a phone number."

Even better than "is" or "be", though, in my opinion, it is extra clear to use "becomes": "Introduce additional user interface widget so that it becomes possible to enter a phone number."

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I don't think the subjunctive would normally be used in this construction in English. –  Peter Shor Dec 20 '11 at 13:59