Last night, I was asked by a non-native speaker if this sentence is correct:
"Would you mind if I sent you messages while you were away?"

I replied "no". This is what I would say:
"Do you mind if I send you messages while you are away?"

She got discouraged and told me that she was practicing making sentences in the past subjunctive mood. To which I said (1) there are much more fundamental points of grammar you need to study, (2) I'll try to get to the bottom of this "past subjunctive" issue.

As of now, this is how I would put the sentence in the normal subjunctive:
"Would you mind if I were to send you messages while you are away?"

But, I am not sure about this normal subjunctive. And, I've never even heard of past subjunctive.

Are all of these sentences correct:
(1) Would you mind if I sent you messages while you were away?
(2) Do you mind if I send you messages while you are away?
(3) Would you mind if I were to send you messages while you are away?

  • Are you asking about common usage or strict grammatical structure? – bib Jul 22 '14 at 2:08
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    What sounds natural is none of the above: "Would you mind if I sent you messages while you're away?" – Peter Shor Jul 22 '14 at 3:12
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    @Peter Shor (1) would also be quite normal over here (apart from the 'you are'). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 22 '14 at 16:52
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    @PeterShor I've read the thread several times. I disagree with the notion that "the speaker imagines that he or she has transported to a future imaginary point in time". I accept that I am wrong. But, I reject being told that, as a native speaker, I am sensing imagenary teleportation to a future point in time. I can memorize the mechanics of past subjunctive, but, for the record, I do not have the sensation of imaginary teleportation. And that is why past subjunctive is so difficult for me.. – user312440 Jul 23 '14 at 4:23
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    I wouldn't link to that ELL answer as an explanation… – snailplane Jul 23 '14 at 5:12

All four are, strictly speaking, correct, but why not use the first? It is the most straightforward. Do not, as one answer has it, write "send" with a "t".

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Subjunctive is called for in both clauses since neither has occurred and both are hypothetical.

The last example is most correct since it uses subjunctive for both. However, common usage finds all four forms without really any ambiguity.

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    Um, what are you calling subjunctive? I’ll give you I were but I don’t see any others. Plus his third sentence is at least a bit dubious. – tchrist Jul 22 '14 at 2:46
  • Why isn't would subjunctive? – bib Jul 22 '14 at 3:03
  • Would is (now) simply the (old) past tense of will. Yes, it was formerly also a past subjunctive, but it hasn’t been considered such since back when people would write things like Si voluisses, ʒif ðu walde equating it to a Romance past subjunctive in the protasis—but note that that’s from 825 ᴀᴅ. In the example sentences, it’s used as a modal verb in the conditional’s apodosis to match the regular past or the hypothetical were in its protasis. Also see english.stackexchange.com/a/178010 english.stackexchange.com/a/177117 english.stackexchange.com/a/180182. – tchrist Jul 22 '14 at 4:00
  • @tchrist funny that you mention past subjunctive... I was asked by a non-native speaker whether a certain sentence was correct. It sounded unnatural, so I re-worded. She then said that according to her textbook, the sentence was in past subjunctive. I knew enough to know to ask for help on stackexchange. – user312440 Jul 22 '14 at 21:04

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