In reference to: Why is the past tense used in "I was wondering if you would like to come for dinner?" I'd like to ask why we usually use "I was wondering if..." not "I have been wondering if...".



I was wondering is more commonly used for these two reasons:

  1. It is shorter and easier to speak
  2. It is less formal and conveys a friendly feeling

I have been wondering states a fact. You are stating a thought or question that you had. I was wondering is informal, more of a question and makes it clear to the other person that an answer is requested.

I have been wondering whether we are alone in the universe...

I was wondering if we're alone in the universe...

The first statement can be read matter-of-factly and will usually be followed up by the one asking the question. The second statement can be read as a statement or as a question... and if there is a long enough pause leaves the answer open to either person in the conversation.

This translates over to your original question... in that "I was wondering" is both less formal, and requires a response.

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I'd like to ask why we usually use "I was wondering if…" not "I have been wondering if…".

For politeness reasons, the past-tense version is usually preferred over the present-tense or the present-perfect versions. One reason for this could be that both the present-tense and the present-perfect overtly include the present time (the present-perfect due to the present tense of "have")--and explicit reference to the immediate present can risk the appearance of being too direct.

Here's some related info from the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), page 138:

Politeness/diffidence feature as an implicature

. . . The added politeness associated with the preterite [the "preterite" is the same as "past-tense" -- F.E.] comes from avoiding explicit reference to the immediate present: I distance myself slightly and thus avoid the risk of appearing too direct, possibly brusque.

If you are interested in more related info, you could visit this post in a very recent thread: https://english.stackexchange.com/a/167046/57102

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I would see "I was wondering if you would like ..." as an idiomatic introduction. The main idea is not to stress an ongoing action up to now but to have a quick introductory formula for the main idea, the invitation. And by using "I was wondering" the speaker states that this idea came up, maybe the day before, and in this case past tense is appropriate.

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