If I was/were you

Discussion in 'Italian-English' started by l'isoladeltesoro, Sep 27, 2008.

  1. l'isoladeltesoro Senior Member

    In un quiz di un sito web ho trovato questa frase:
    If I ..... you, I would wait a while to begin investing.
    nelle ossibilità c'erano sia was che were...
    Io, considerando la traduzione "Se io fossi te,...." ho scelto was.
    Ma il quiz ha invece scelto come opzione giusta were, segnandomi was come sbagliata.
    Potreste confermare o smentire.

    What a news!!!I've never heard in my life, even I studied English for 12 years.
    I always knew I was.
    Anyway I'm going to wait for native response.
    Thank you luca.dario.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2009
  2. Leo57 Senior Member

    UK English
    Hi there
    If I were you, I would...
    It is the seldom used English subjunctive. Other examples:

    If your father were alive he would help you.
    If I were rich I would buy a Mercedes.

    They can also be said "normally".

    If your father was alive..
    If I was rich...

  3. baldpate

    baldpate Senior Member

    UK, English
    "were" is grammaticaly correct.

    In English, the verb "to be" is one of the few where subjunctive has been preserved by clear differences of form. "were" is the past subjunctive. "was" is the simple past.

    However, in English nowadays, the use of subjunctive forms is in steep decline. Many people might say "If I was you, I would ...". In other constructions, which should require the past subjunctive, the incorrect use of "was" is increasingly common (with "I" and "he/she/it" - particularly with "it") :

    "If it was up to me, I wouldn't give him any help at all".
  4. lingogal Senior Member

    U.S. English
    For hypothetical statements (if...), the subjunctive is needed for proper grammar.

    If I were you, I would ...

    In everyday English, this form is disappearing little by little, but were is still the correct form an English teacher (or my mother! :D) might expect.
  5. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    La spiegazione è che viene usato il past simple in qualità del nostro congiuntivo imperfetto "se fossi/fosse..", e si usa 'were' per tutte le persone.
    Solo che nell'inglese parlato spesso si usa 'was' alla prima e terza persona singolare come nel "normale" past simple, e come sai anche tu, a volte la lingua parlata sostituisce lo scritto.
    Se però chiedi a un madrelingua o cerchi nei tantissimi thread a riguardo sull'uso di were/was come congiuntivo (soprattutto nelle espressioni "If I were.." or "As it were.."), troverai conferma di quanto ti ho detto.

    Ciao :)

    Ps: sorry to everyone, I was slow as always, so I didn't read the previous answers...
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2008
  6. l'isoladeltesoro Senior Member

    Ok, now I realized my misunderstand.
    Thank you all.
  7. london calling Senior Member

    Ho usato "if it were.." in risposta ad un post 30 secondi fa....so che "was" si usa sempre di più, ma non mi piace, non lo dico e non lo scrivo (another one of my pet rants, pandino!:D).
  8. della_malo

    della_malo Junior Member

    usa- english
    Userei "was" benché se sia sbaglio!:eek:
  9. You little ripper! Senior Member

    Australian English
    According to this language website, it's perfectly acceptable to use either.

    "Older, prescriptive grammar books insist on the use of the subjunctive form were. Most modern, descriptive grammar books accept both were and was as being grammatically acceptable, but they suggest that I wish I were is more appropriate in formal contexts."
  10. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    LC, always kidding me with your great pet rants... :D :D

    Native friends, seriously talking, I would like to understand how much weird to your native ears "as it were" sounds strange.. because the use of subjunctive in Italian is still strongly suggested in "secondary sentences" which require it, it's not only a matter of being formal...
  11. baldpate

    baldpate Senior Member

    UK, English
    Regarding "as it were", the situation is quite different from that of "If it were" vs. "If it was".
    "as it were" is very much a fixed phrase, in which the subjunctive has become 'fossilized'. Far from "as it were" sounding strange, one simply could not say "as it was" and expect to be understood. A few other such fossilized phrases are:
    - far be it from me
    - so be it
    - suffice it to say

    Regarding the "If it were" vs. "If it was" debate, take the example I cited in my post:
    - "If it was up to me, I wouldn't give him any help at all".
    Although I am a grammatical traditionalist and would consider it incorrect (although I might very well myself let it slip out in an unguarded moment !!), it certainly doesn't sound very wrong to me. But I don't consider that the correct form "If it were up to me, ..." sounds in the least bit wierd.

    Were I to use the inverted form without the initial "if" (as I have just done to begin this sentence) then to use "was" would sound very wrong. Try it on my sample sentence:
    - "Was it up to me, I wouldn't give him any help at all". :eek::eek:

    It would be interesting to hear from a younger English native speaker, someone in their teens or early twenties. They may have an entirely different perspective.
  12. london calling Senior Member

    Yes, I think you're right there, baldpate! :) I'm convinced that that age group uses "was" quite happily....:D (My teenager doesn't, but only because he learnt his English from me!;))
  13. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    Perfect explanation, Baldpate!!! Thanks a lot, really (and sorry for being late.. :eek:)!
  14. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    I also favour "If I were", but at nearly 59 what do you expect? I agree we should hear the opinion of younger forero/as.
    However, one thing should be stressed: even if we say "if I was", this is no reason for saying the subjunctive doesn't exist in English. We're talking about a hypothetical situation in the present, so why is the verb in the past? Answer: it's subjunctive! Just like the Italian imperfect subjunctive.
  15. I am 45. "If I were you ........" sounds fine whereas "If I was you .... " just doesn't and I wouldn't say it. However I had to think hard about Baldpates "If it was up to me, I wouldn't give him any help at all". That sounded OK until I thought about it hard.

    Then I asked the 23 year old sitting opposite me for his opinion and he said exactly the same as the above BUT he thought "If I was you ..." was OK too so perhaps younger people are not averse to dropping the subjunctive
  16. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    Ok, thanks to all of you..

    In conclusion, I would say that in Italian this matter works a bit differently, since the subjuctive in hypothetical sentences should be used by everyone, independently of the age, whereas in English the general tendency is substitute the subjunctive with the "normal" simple past, apart from fixed phrases, as Baldpate suggested ("as it were", "If I were you").

    Ciao a tutti, grazie mille per le vostre opinioni sempre preziose! :)
  17. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    In post 15 I said:
    I've made this point in other threads but no one has commented on it so far! Let's use another verb:
    "If he speaks English, why doesn't he get a job in a language school?" Here there's no subjunctive; "speaks" is in the present.
    "If he spoke English, he could work in a language school". We're still speaking about the present, hypothetically, so why is "spoke" in the past? Because it's subjunctive and in Italian it would be translated with the imperfect subjunctive, "parlasse". It's true that in English you can't see the distinction between the two imperfects "parlasse" and "parlava", but is that a reason for saying it's indicative? No, because the indicative form when talking about the present is not "spoke" but "speaks". Does anyone understand what I'm on about?:D

    That's why, in "if I was you", we are not dropping the subjunctive but just expressing it "badly".
  18. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    In my humble opinion, everything was already clear before, but repeat it is not wrong at all... ;)

    Thanks, Einstein! :)

    Ps: when being with my international friends, I've noticed that many not natives don't use the subjunctive ("if I would be you, then I would do..." which sounds as terrible as "se io sarei in te, allora farei.." in Italian), though natives tend to correct them suggesting they use it!
  19. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    Some Italians tend to say things like "If I would go..." for "Se io andassi..." because they think "If I went..." sounds too simple to be a subjunctive.
  20. Paulfromitaly

    Paulfromitaly MODerator

    Brescia (Italy)
    This is plain wrong and I've never ever heard any native speaker say it.
  21. pandinorombante

    pandinorombante Senior Member

    Around Europe
    Italy - Italian
    Paul, credo tu non abbia letto attentamente il mio post precedente (o forse il mio inglese non è stato sufficiente corretto).

    Ho detto che molti NON natives tra i miei amici internazionali (e non solo Italiani) fanno spesso quest'errore e ignorano completamente l'esistenza del congiuntivo, vuoi perché nella loro lingua natia non esiste, vuoi perché, come ha suggerito Einstein, confondono il passato con il congiuntivo appunto.

    Alla fine, comunque, ho sottolineato che i nativi correggono sempre questo tipo di errore (e quando non lo fanno, è solo per non sembrare pedanti, ma sempre un grave errore è).

    Ciao :)
  22. Paulfromitaly

    Paulfromitaly MODerator

    Brescia (Italy)
    Abbiamo detto la stessa cosa :)
    Confermavo che non ho mai sentito nessun madrelingua dire una cosa del genere perchè è proprio un errore stridente.
  23. Ian Tenor Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello Einstein -

    Your point is an interesting one. I have come across it in other threads, but always in connexion with the 'Past tense' WAS / WERE controversy.

    And your explanations are quite clear : while most phrases introduced by 'If' reqiire rhe subjunctive mood, some are simply statements of fact and thus require the indicative.

    Past -

    'If he WAS a rich man, [we believe he was] (then) why didn't he pay off his debts ?' - Indicative

    'If I HAD BEEN (HAD I BEEN) a rich man, I would have paid off my debts.' - Subjunctive

    Present -

    'If he IS a rich man, [we believe he is] (then) why doesn't he pay off his debts ?' - Indicative

    'If I WERE (WERE I) a rich man, I would pay off my debts.' - Subjunctive

    As for the 'If I WERE / WAS' confusion, this I believe to be the fruit of the relative simplicity of English conjugations and of native English-speakers' reluctance to use a form which seems 'wrong' or 'awkward'.

    Though past and present subjunctives have little to do with past and present time, English-speakers do naturally tend to conflate both the past subjunctive with the preterite and the present subjunctive with the present indicative. This makes some speakers uneasy with perfectly correct subjunctive foms such as '(If) I / he/ she / it WERE', ' (that) he / she / it DO' and '(that) I / we BE', preferring ''(If) I / he/ she / it WAS', ' (that) he / she / it DOES' and '(that) I / we SHOULD BE'.

    Speakers of other European languages naturally have fewer problems, because the subjunctive forms are often very different from the indicative forms, and use of indicative forms therefore 'feels' wrong. (I speak here of the languages I know well, French and Italian, though I am told that rhe same is true of Spanish.)

    (The Wikipedia article 'English subjunctive' is most informative. Am I allowed to say this ?)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2014

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