I've noticed this form being used by English speakers from India. In standard English the infinitive form of "to be" is not normally combined with verbs modified with "-ing" (normally used for present continuous).

Does this represent a particular tense? And if so is there a widely recognised term within linguists for this tense?

I'm curious as to where this grammatical form comes from.

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    I don't think asking "what tense" it is will get you anywhere, because that implies picking from a set of names on a list, and we don't have a list. You might ask "what does it mean, distinct from the 'simple present' as in 'please take one'?" – user6726 Sep 21 '16 at 4:31
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    @Review I vote to leave this question open because it is "primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage". (Sorry I just accidentally posted this as an answer instead of a comment, I'm too stupid to use my phone...) – lemontree Sep 21 '16 at 4:32
  • @user6726 has no one documented the tenses in Indian English? – Q the Platypus Sep 21 '16 at 4:58
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    @QthePlatypus, nobody has officially named the tenses of Indian English, so the way you phrased the question, this is an open-ended and unanswerable terminology question. – user6726 Sep 21 '16 at 5:05
  • @user6726 so there hasn't been formal research into the grammar of the second most popular English dialect? – Q the Platypus Sep 22 '16 at 0:07

Indian English is English as spoken by people whose first language is an Indian language (mostly Indo-Aryan or Dravidian). The English of India is strongly influenced by Indo-Aryan phonology, morphology and syntax. In this particular case I think we have to see a calque on the Indo-Aryan use of the infinitive as a semi-polite (or politeness-neutral) imperative; e.g. as in Hindi bacnā “look out!”, which is formally an infinitive (“to look, to be looking”), but is used here as a command form.

May I add that “to be + VERB +-ing” is a perfectly “normal” (to use your word) present continuous infinitive in English (“It is time to be looking for a new job.”) What is not normal in standard English is its use as a command form.

See R.S. McGregor, Outline of Hindi Grammar, 2nd edition, p. 41.

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I wonder if this isn't best analyzed as a combination of two factors:

1) Different evolution of "please" construction -- Standard English has worn it down from something like "may it please you to {infinitive}" to just "please {infinitive}"; in some varieties of IE (and/or in certain contexts) that "to" may still be hanging on, or may even have been reintroduced to cover up the bare infinitive that follows.

2) More widespread use of progressive than in Standard English (this is a commonly cited and easily observed characteristic of IE - "I am knowing", etc. (see Sailaja, Indian English)

So instead of "[please] [wait]", you end up with "[please to] [be waiting]".

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  • Not "please {infinitive}" but "please {imperative}". Thus, "worn down" is not a correct definition of this process. – fdb Sep 22 '16 at 17:34
  • Good point, given "please don't X" (equivalent "to" form "please not to X" or "please to not X"). Would you prefer "reanalyzed", then? – Matt Sep 23 '16 at 1:54
  • I agree that "reanalyzed" would be better, but my main concern is that this usage is not the result of something happening within standard English, but the result of the influence of Indian languages. Please see my answer. – fdb Sep 23 '16 at 18:34
  • So... you think that the use of "Please to X" in standard English during the colonial period, by the English speakers Indians would have learned English from, was irrelevant? Indian speakers instead adopted the newer "Please X (imperative)" construction, but then immediately replaced the imperative with an infinitive as a syntactic calque from their native language? That doesn't strike me as especially parsimonious, but I guess we can agree to disagree. – Matt Sep 24 '16 at 3:45

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