1. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    "If I were" problem

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by natsuki, Jun 8, 2010.

    Hi
    I have a doubt, I don't know if it's a strange one, but here it goes:

    When you say something like "If I were someone else", do you always have to use "were"? You can't say "If I was someone else"?

    And you use "were" for all the persons even when the correct past tense would be "was"?
    "If she were..."
    "If he were..."

    Why does this happen? Are there similar situations?

    Thank you :rolleyes:
     
  2. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be able to answer this if I were a wiser man.

    Or should that be "if I was a wiser man"? ;)
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's called the subjunctive mood, denoting an alternative to how things are, and the verb needs to be were, not was.

    Google subjunctive mood for a more detailed explanation.
     
  4. VegasGeorge
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    VegasGeorge Member

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    As I understand it, the rule is to use "were" in all cases except where the suggested alternative is an actual possibility. So it's "If it were Sunday we'd go shopping" (because it's not Sunday), and it's "If I was rude, I apologize" (because you may have been rude).
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Replace actual with distinct and you've nailed it.

    The subjunctive mood allows for actual possibilities: If I were a fisherman, I would have a boat.

    There is nothing fantistical about my being a fisherman. It is an actual possibility. Now, it is not a distinct possibility in that there has been nothing mentioned in context to give one to believe that the case has a high probability of being true. Also, the subjunctive usually has an if A then B logic to it, as in the sentence given as an example. It is a little more difficult in today's syntax to separate the subjunctive from other moods. In the past the example sentence I gave would have had a very different wording which is sometimes still used by more pedantic individuals like myself. It goes like this:

    Would that I were a fisherman, I would have a boat.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That would be the indicative mood, for an an event which actually occurred (the word if in that case means you are offering the apology contingent on whether the condition was actually met, so it is still voiced as an actual event).
     
  7. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    Thank you all for the explanations, I understood it now :)
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You are welcome!

    As Cogito has pointed out, the other example is the indicative mood. The indicative and the subjunctive at some point became muddied when the two started to share the same sentence structure in common parlance. If you rephrase the sentence a bit you can better see the difference between the was and were of the subjunctive. Forgive if the following constructions sound antiquated. They are not often used in everyday speech, but they do focus on your original question.

    You can phrase them as follows:

    Were they to go to the mall, they would find great sales.

    compare that to:

    Was they to go to the mall, they would find great sales.

    You can see that the second example sounds horrid. It is wrong.
     
  9. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    Yes, I can really see the difference between both of them now. The first one really sounds much better :p
     

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