if he were / if he was - subjunctive

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by snoomip, Nov 8, 2005.

  1. snoomip Senior Member

    United States English
    Hi all,

    I saw in a previous thread some people saying that it was valid to say in English "If he was rich, he would ..." instead of the subjunctive form: "If he were rich, he would ..." More specifically, it was said that the subjunctive form was not obligatory.

    This seems really interesting to me. Can someone please send me a source to back this up?

    Thank you.
  2. jess oh seven

    jess oh seven Senior Member

    UK/US, English
    A friend of mine was telling me that you're meant to use was/were depending on probability or likelihood... like if something's not very probable at all, you use "were", and if it's something that could actually happen, you use "was". I'm not entirely sure I believe him...
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 12, 2015
  3. mela New Member

    Hi! It is wrong to use ' was' instead of 'were' + would.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 12, 2015
  4. MarkLondres Senior Member

    Bogotá Colombia
    mela, it doesn't sound incorrect to use Was instead of Were to me.

    I am not sure whether this link will help you at all with your specific question, but i find it to be the best resource for explaining the english subjunctive (yes, it is alien to us too and we need to read up on it).


    You may also get a better response to your question if you post it in the English Only Forum where the English experts hang out. Why dont you send a PM to a mod and ask them to move it?

    Best wishes.

    EDIT: Sorry, for some reason I thought mela was the original poster, hence the reference to English speakers needing to read up on the English subjunctive.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 12, 2015
  5. gvergara

    gvergara Senior Member

    Santiago, Chile
    Hi people:
    I was the one who said that you can use either was or were in if-sentences in the 1st and 3rd person, singular. I stick to my guns; as native speakers, there are many things you'll never learn from books but from everyday life. On the contrary, I, as an English learner, have to learn the grammatical theory as well as the everyday English you speak. Please take a look at the following paragraph

    "In FORMAL writing, use WERE rather than WAS to express a state of affairs that is contrary to the facts: I wish it WERE finished (but it is not); Suppose it WERE true (but it is false); He behaves as though he WERE a millionaire (but he is not). Similarly for hypotetical conditions after if: If John WERE here, he would know; If it WERE to rain we should get wet; He spoke as if I WERE deaf.

    In all of the above, WAS is common in less formal styles. But even when you're not attempting formality, WERE is the only choice in inverted sentences: WERE this true, it would be very alarming."

    Source:Longman Guide to English Language (Sidney Greenbaum, Jane Whitcut)

    I hope I have been helpful and that at least one of you believes me. See you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 12, 2015
  6. jacinta Senior Member

    USA English
    This has been discussed ad nauseum somewhere here. Some of us English speakers still use "If I were.." instead of "If I was..."

    It has become very commonplace in informal speech to use the latter: If I was...
    It is an accepted form. I cannot say it because it sounds wrong to me, but that is a personal preference. You will get many opinions on this topic, none right or wrong, just opinions.
  7. kringle New Member

    English UK
    I "still" say "if he were" and like Jacinta cannot bring my self to say "if he was" - like I cringe when I hear "How are you? I'm GOOD" - as if the asker wanted to know if I was well behaved or not!

    They call it evolution, I personally think it's laziness and bad grammar. But that makes me sound old.
  8. mexerica feliz

    mexerica feliz Senior Member

    It's similar to

    I wish he was/were here.

    I wish he was here is MUCH more common, at least in the UK.

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