Alphadictionary.com

Our Sponsors

Technical Translation
Website Translation Clip Art
 

If I were/was

You have words - now what do you do with them?

If I were/was

Postby Enigma » Mon Feb 22, 2010 6:42 am

Do you still use the present indicative in structures such as 'if I was' when the statement is non-hypothetical?

I've read you are supposed to, but 'apparently' the indicative is not used in this way (anymore), and is only used as an informal alternative to the hypothetical/subjunctive statement 'if I were'


If this is true, how are we supposed to show a non-hypothetical statement? :?
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
Enigma
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 194
Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:26 pm
Location: New Zealand

Postby Audiendus » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:04 am

The following sentences are grammatically correct:

If I was sad, she would always comfort me.
If I was obstructing you, I wasn't doing so on purpose.
If I was rude, I apologise.
If I was right, why did he mark my answer wrong?
If I was on week 3 of the course then, I must be on week 5 now.

"If I were" would be wrong in the above sentences.
Audiendus
Senior Lexiterian
 
Posts: 588
Joined: Sun Feb 14, 2010 6:08 pm
Location: London, UK

Postby Enigma » Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:44 pm

This is the best explanation I have read on the distinction:

Note, however, that they are traditional rules. Nowadays, according to many, the distinction is one of formality, not one of moods.

According to traditional rules, you use the subjunctive to describe an occurrence that you have presupposed to be contrary to fact: if I were ten years younger, if America were still a British Colony. The verb in the main clause of these sentences must then contain the verb would or (less frequently) should: If I were ten years younger, I would consider entering the marathon. If America were still a British colony, we would all be drinking tea in the afternoon. When the situation described by the if clause is not presupposed to be false, however, that clause must contain an indicative verb. The form of verb in the main clause will depend on your intended meaning: If Hamlet was really written by Marlowe, as many have argued, then we have underestimated Marlowe’s genius. If Kevin was out all day, then it makes sense that he couldn’t answer the phone.
Remember, just because the modal verb would appears in the main clause, this doesn’t mean that the verb in the if clause must be in the subjunctive if the content of that clause is not presupposed to be false: If I was (not were) to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2. He would always call her from the office if he was (not were) going to be late for dinner.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
Enigma
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 194
Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:26 pm
Location: New Zealand

Postby Audiendus » Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:53 pm

I agree with all the examples in the passage you have quoted, with one glaring exception:

If I was (not were) to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2.

I think this is quite wrong (unless it is specific to American or other non-British English). I would definitely use "were" here in writing. This sentence is not of the same type as the other "was" examples given.

There is a simple way of deciding whether to use "was" or "were":

1. If the clause refers to a hypothetical or counterfactual situation/event in the present or future, use "were".

2. If the clause refers to a possible situation/event in the past, use "was".

(1) is often disregarded in spoken English, but (2) applies to both written and spoken English.
Audiendus
Senior Lexiterian
 
Posts: 588
Joined: Sun Feb 14, 2010 6:08 pm
Location: London, UK

Postby Enigma » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:27 pm

The reason this sentence uses the past indicative is because it expresses something that is still possible. The subjunctive is used only if there is no possibility of it happening.

Of course, there are some who disagree and believe the subjunctive is used both for counterfactual statements and for statements that may occur.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
Enigma
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 194
Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:26 pm
Location: New Zealand

Postby Slava » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:21 pm

If I was (not were) to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2.
Perhaps I just a lazy American, but in this one I'd tend to avoid the whole question and go for "If I do accept ... I'll have to start...".
User avatar
Slava
Grand Panjandrum
 
Posts: 4653
Joined: Thu Sep 28, 2006 9:31 am
Location: Finger Lakes, NY

Postby Enigma » Mon Feb 22, 2010 9:28 pm

Slava wrote:
If I was (not were) to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2.
Perhaps I just a lazy American, but in this one I'd tend to avoid the whole question and go for "If I do accept ... I'll have to start...".


were to is an example of future subjunctive (some call it this, even thouh we don't have a future subjunctive). This construction is used to emphasize that the action is very unlikely to occur.

If I were angry, I would...
If I were to be angry, I would...


The same goes with the putative should.

Should I be angry, I would...
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
Enigma
Lexiterian
 
Posts: 194
Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:26 pm
Location: New Zealand


Return to Grammar

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest