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For example

歌を歌ったりしていますか?

vs

歌を歌っていたりしますか?

Also for a sentence like this:

あなた、私が盗んだと思っていたりします?

vs

あなた、私が盗んだと思ったりしています?

I've asked a native speaker and apparently the second sentence seems more polite? Why is that?

2 Answers 2

3

A-1. 歌を歌ったりしていますか?

A-2. 歌を歌っていたりしますか?

A-1 is asking whether the other person spends time singing songs and possibly doing other things. The main point of the question is what the listener does as a habit or is currently doing. You could list another activity.

歌を歌ったり音楽を聴いたりしていますか?

A-2 has a slightly different implication. It sounds as if it is asking whether the current situation is such that the listener, or someone else, is in the middle of singing. The main point of the question is what the situation is like. I cannot think of a good scenario in which this question sounds completely natural. Perhaps it is part of a phone conversation and the speaker suspects from the background noise that the listener is with someone and that person is singing a song.

The difference is in a way more obvious in the following pair. (I swapped the order of the sentences so the correspondence with the first pair would be clearer.)

B-1. あなた、私が盗んだと思ったりしています?

B-2. あなた、私が盗んだと思っていたりします?

B-1 sounds a bit unnatural to me. It cannot be asking whether the other person is currently having a particular idea or doing other things. In other words, what the speaker wants to know cannot be what the listener is doing now. Just like B-2, it must be also asking what the current situation is like. If the purpose is that, the second construction sounds much more natural. It implies that the speaker suspects the current situation is something unexpected for them.

あなた、もしかして/ひょっとして私が盗んだと思っていたりします?

It could be understood as a rhetorical question whose real meaning is something like this.

あなた、まさか私が盗んだと思ってないでしょうね。

It is probably because of this acusatory implication that the native speaker you consulted thought B-2 (the “first” in the original order) was “less polite” than B-1 (the “second” in the original order). To me, B-1 simply sounds less natural.

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These four sentences look equally natural and correct to me. I can feel no difference regarding politeness level. Just in case you missed this, this type of たり marks an unlikely occasion, often as a softener. See: Meaning of ーたりしない and What does 良いところだったりする mean in this sentence?

When there are two or more verbs, for example, 歌ったり踊ったりしている is more common and natural than 歌っていたり踊っていたりする, although the latter is not incorrect.

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