In the following paragraph, the main discourse started in present tense(ask), but then switched to past tense (might). Why is such a switch allowed?

Microeconomists and macroeconomists ask different types of questions. A microeconomist might be interested in answering such question as: How does a market work? What levels of output does a firm produce?

  • 1
    Didn't you already ask this question (or one very much like it) already? – Robusto Oct 25 '13 at 19:30
  • They are different. That paragraph switched to the future tense. Also, I'm told that the author's writing cannot be trusted. – user133466 Oct 25 '13 at 19:35
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    "A microeconomist might be interested in answering such question as..." is not past tense. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 25 '13 at 19:37
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 I looked into the dictionary, "might" is the past tense of "may".. – user133466 Oct 25 '13 at 19:39
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    Might is not in the past tense. Might is a modal auxiliary verb and modal auxiliary verbs have no tense. – John Lawler Oct 25 '13 at 19:49

The sentence you've highlighted is not using a past tense. It is using the conditional mood. It expresses that there exist some microeconomists who would ask questions such as "How does a market work?". Maybe some microeconomists won't ask that question, specifically, but some will.

Wikipedia says this:

The modal verbs could, might, should and would may in some contexts be regarded as conditional forms of can, may, shall and will respectively. What is called the English conditional mood (or just the conditional) is formed periphrastically using the modal verb would in combination with the bare infinitive of the main verb. (Occasionally should is used in place of would with a first person subject – see shall and will. Also the aforementioned modal verbs could, might and should may replace would in order to express appropriate modality in addition to conditionality.)

  • There are a lot of explanations for this simple use (modality, conditional, auxiliaries etc). It's very overwhelming. What would a layman need to know the rules of modal auxiliary verbs to be relatively proficient at writing essays, letters, short stories? Thank you! – user133466 Oct 25 '13 at 22:18
  • Calling it "the conditional mood" explains nothing about the usage; it just gives it a name. If you want to say there is a conditional mood in English, why not an optative and a benedictive as well? – John Lawler Oct 26 '13 at 0:11

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