In this sentence:

"We would also accept an international transfer, but in that case we would ask you to pay your bank's charges at the time of the instruction to ensure that we received the full amount"

is it correct to use "received" or should it be in present tense?

  • If you had (subconsciously) used received, you probably meant it and therefore that is the implication you had in mind. receive and received are both correct each with a different implication. There is a significant difference.
    – Kris
    Jan 11 '12 at 11:07
  • @Kris: what is the difference? I don't see one. Jan 11 '12 at 12:21
  • @PeterShor: I posted my observations as an answer. I would still prefer a much simpler way of stating it in two sentences, preferably three.
    – Kris
    Jan 11 '12 at 12:33

The present tense is sometimes used in English to express the future, and that is what is required here. Paying the bank’s charges and receiving the full amount have yet to happen. To express this, the sentence needs to end with ‘to ensure that we receive the full amount.’

  • 1
    Or it could be a hypothetical, in which case received would be correct. Jan 11 '12 at 12:36
  • @TimLymington: We'd need to know the wider context to be sure - as so often. Jan 11 '12 at 16:22

I see a distinct variation in meaning:
"... to ensure that we received the full amount" implies that the amount is already received 'at the time of the instruction'.
"... to ensure that we receive the full amount" implies that the amount would eventually be received (precluding any possibility of future default).

In fact, the overall sentence is prone to ambiguity because of too many clauses combined.


The use of the past tense here (received) is an example of deferential backshift. As the rest of the sentence makes clear, the speaker is going out of his or her way not to cause offense. This kind of deferential backshift is common in requests such as:

"I was wondering if you could help me."


"Excuse me, I wanted to see the headmaster. Is he free?"

  • 1
    Yeah, I think that nails it. A phrase that seems to be hovering over the whole sentence without ever being said as such is something like "In the unlikely event of your failure to pay, ...". This could license a deferential counterfactual like a past tense. Jan 11 '12 at 17:49

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