1. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Was/were

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Tenderiser, May 19, 2016.

    My lack of grammar education is showing me up again.

    In these examples, is 'was' correct, or should it be 'were'? I've had one reader tell me all my "if it was" should be "if it were" and I have no idea if she's right.

    This is written in past tense.

    If it [sex] was good, she’d keep seeing him.

    [Wondering who's knocking at the door] Oh god, if it was Sam…

    Neither of her friends knew a thing about fashion, or colour coordination, and if it wasn’t for her they’d be wandering around with washed-out skin.

    ...glaring at them [knickers/panties] as if it was their fault.

    “You wouldn’t have married if it wasn’t for the children?”

    What if it was life experience that made him so interesting?

    “It’s not love,” she said loudly. Everyone else she loved would leave her if it was.

    She tried to decide if it was blackcurrant or blackberry.
     
  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rule of thumb: any sentence starting with 'if' uses the plural, even if the subject is singular. This is the subjunctive mood (or mode) and you can read more about it here. (Sorry about the pop-up, but it was the most succinct explanation I found.)
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Aha, so they should ALL be were? These two sound so wrong with were:

    What if it were life experience that made him so interesting?
    She tried to decide if it were blackcurrant or blackberry.
     
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This can't be a were, can it?

    She had no idea if she were putting Julie in danger by telling Marc anything, or if she were exposing her lies.

    Edit: I have read the link, Sack, I just don't really get it.
     
  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I should have read through all your examples. Sorry.
    This one does sound better with 'was' although a quick check through two different grammar checkers says both are right.

    I think in this case, you can safely stick with 'was.' Your agent likely won't catch it, either and if the editor does, just say you're ESL. ;)
    were, definitely
    weren't
    'was' is correct here because... I don't know why, but it is.
    weren't, again: I can't give you the rule (sigh)
    were
    I think either would work here, but I'd err on the side of 'were.'
    'were' and as a side note, I ran this through a grammar checker (Ginger.com [would I use any other? :) ]) and it says 'blackcurrent' is actually two words. Just saying.

    And just so you know, I don't always run these things through a grammar checker when I'm writing my own stuff. This time I thought it might be good to double-check my own observations. But, it seems online grammar checkers aren't very good at separating subjective from normal mode. Go figure.
     
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  6. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    I get confused on this as well and have re-written sentences to avoid having to decide which is correct. Having read the link I am still no more certain and would have used 'was' in your example above.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've decided to just rewrite it. Good idea, Brindy :D

    She had no idea if telling Marc would put Julie in danger or expose her lies.
     
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  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically, any conditional statement should use the plural form. As I stated above, whenever you have an 'if' (conditional) use plural and you should be fine. And let your copy editor deal with the finer details. :)
     
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  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    My understanding is that you use the subjunctive only when there's some degree of unreality to the subject. "If I were in charge, we'd have ponies at work," (dreamy-time) vs. "If I'm in charge, you have to do what I say" (practical, reality-based). But while I understand this in theory, I have some trouble applying it to examples (it seems like every "if" statement has SOME level of unreality to it, doesn't it?)

    So, for what it's worth, these are my interpretations of your examples, but I'm really not feeling authoritative about it...

    If it [sex] was good, she’d keep seeing him. - good sex isn't imaginary, so I'd leave it as was

    [Wondering who's knocking at the door] Oh god, if it was Sam… -
    totally possible it could be Sam, so I'd leave it as was.

    Neither of her friends knew a thing about fashion, or colour coordination, and if it wasn’t for her they’d be wandering around with washed-out skin. I'd leave as was, probably, but maybe "weren't" because of the hyperbole? not sure

    ...glaring at them [knickers/panties] as if it was their fault. Maybe were, because it pretty clearly isn't the panties' fault...

    “You wouldn’t have married if it wasn’t for the children?” I have no real rationale for this one, but I feel like I'd go for weren't. I guess because it's a question, so that suggests some level of speculation/uncertainty? Don't know. Damn. I'm not much use, am I?

    What if it was life experience that made him so interesting? Were sounds wrong, but I can't justify that based on my speculation/unreality standards. This totally seems like speculation, so why not were? No idea.

    “It’s not love,” she said loudly. Everyone else she loved would leave her if it was. I'd leave as was because there's nothing imaginary about love (at least by the standards of a romance novel!)

    She tried to decide if it was blackcurrant or blackberry. Nothing speculative or unreal about jam flavours, so I'd leave as was.


    But I'm a pretty bad authority. Hopefully @Wreybies will come along and clarify!
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2016
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  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any sentence that complex, yes. I'd just rewrite it, too.
     
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  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like @BayView's interpretation better than mine. (has more of the details of the rules with that 'unreality' bit thrown in there. I'd forgotten about that.)
     
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  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'll just take up pottery instead of writing. Seems simpler.
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    In that case, can I have your sense of humour?
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @BayView has it right.

    Here's another link: Subjunctive vs. Indicative Mood
     
  15. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I will try to remember Bay's ponies example. I need grammar rules pitched in ways children can understand. :D

    No. You have enough of your own and it needs to shared around.
     
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  16. Midge23
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    Midge23 Member

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    I'll give it a shot (may get some of it wrong):

    Please stop posting these threads and forcing me to think - it hurts!
     
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  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have been invoked! [​IMG]

    It's not at all easy and there is huge room for argument. The subjunctive is a good example of linguistic flux that we can genuinely note because it is waning within our lifetime. The above description of what the subjunctive is for is correct, but how and when we apply it has many exceptions and the simple fact that the subjunctive is observed more in the breach than in the use makes it even harder to know when.


    I agree with you here. If we apply the subjunctive in this case we make is sound as though the goodness of sex as a general paradigm is what's in question. The indicative mood here makes the concept more concrete, and in this case, more about this particular roll in the hay, not just rolls in the hay in general.


    Agreed again. In this case because I think of this as a broken subjunctive. There is no result or set of options that are implied for the question. It really only implies a fear or concern that it will be Sam.

    Here I disagree. I would use the subjunctive weren't. The subjunctive clause is in full flower in this sentence, possessing all its parts in full form.

    I agree. The culpability of the panties is not in question. And the glare is also not raising a question of culpability, it is flat-out indicting it. Whether we agree with that indictment is a different question.

    I would have used the subjunctive weren't. Again, the clause is complete and whole

    I think it should be were. Again, the clause is complete, we have a proffered result. It's a very simple subjunctive, the kind where we most commonly fail to us it.

    I don't know that the imaginariness of a thing is a reliable go-to. Uncertainty and/or probability are what I use. This sentence is the opposite of the first example in this list of sentences. In that first sentence I think it should be was in order to avoid a reference to sex as a general thing, rather than the particular occurrence. In this sentence, we are talking about love as a general concept.

    I agree, but again, unrealness isn't my choice of logic in this, but rather that there is no resultant option or set of options to the choice, rather just is it this or is it that.
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks all for your help. :blowkiss:
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have to admit to also having an easy cheat method as to when and where to apply. I say it to myself in Spanish. The subjunctive is still at full strength in Spanish and a failed subjunctive error feels almost like word-salad.

    If I were to go with you, you have to pay. :agreed:
    Si fuera a ir contigo, tienes que pagar. :agreed:

    If I was to go with you, you have to pay. [​IMG]
    Si fui/era a ir contigo, tienes que pagar. :dead:
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Learning Spanish would be a great procrastination technique...
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe she's going to make really funny pottery!
     
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  22. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aw! Dang. I was hoping to enter the sixth dimension.
     
  23. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's my ultimate solution (for me, not necessarily for anyone else) to this whole dilemma. Whenever it comes up, I'm just going to go to Wikipedia and look it up.
     
  24. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    "Here's the conjugation of the verb TO BE in the past tense:

    SINGULAR

    I was (first person)

    You were (second person)

    He, She, It was (third person)


    PLURAL

    We were (first person)

    You were (second person)

    They were (third person)"

    The link is:
    http://grammarstars.blogspot.com/2007/07/wacky-wasnt-werent-error.html
     
  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I may not have had an extensive grammar education but I do know that much, @Seraph751 :p
     
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