as if she was/were rich

Julianus

Senior Member
Korean
Hello.

a. She talks as if she was/were rich.

As far as I know, in that sentence(a) both 'was' and 'were' indicate unreal thing(subjunctive).

but if 'present verb' of 'main clause' change into 'past verb' as follows, 'as if-clause' indicate both real(indicative) and unreal thing(subjunctive).

b. She talked as if she was/were rich.


Question: in the second sentence(b), does 'was' of as if-clause indicate 'indicative' and 'were' of as if-clasuse indicate 'subjunctive'?

Or do both 'was' and 'were' indicate both real(indicative) and unreal thing(subjunctive)?---> should I distinguish with context?


Thank you always~
 
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  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Good question, Jullianus. Both "as if she was rich" and "as if she were rich" mean that the speaker (a) isn't sure she was rich or (b) doesn't believe she was rich. Both versions indicate the same uncertainty or disagreement.

    "Were" is the verb you'll find listed under the "past subjunctive" in lists of English verbs. "Was" is the verb you'll usually find under "simple past" or in some other category. I don't think people can distinguish their meanings after phrases like "as if".
     
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    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Traditionally only the subjunctive "were" is correct here, but many people today don't observe that distinction. "Was" is acceptable in all but the most formal situations.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    1. She talked as if she were rich.
    The "as if" clause implies that whether she is actually rich is false, unlikely or doubtful.
    "were" is subjunctive.

    2. She talked as if she was rich.
    This is ambiguous.
    If "was" is read as a modal preterite, then (2) means the same as (1).
    If "was" is read as a simple past tense, then the "as if" clause implies that she was actually rich.
     

    buoo

    Senior Member
    Korean
    If "was" is read as a simple past tense, then the "as if" clause implies that she was actually rich.
    Hello, Pertinax. Then, what implication/sense does it carry to you? She was actually rich, but talking in an arrogant, patronizing voice?
    Thanks.
     
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    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    With the present tense there is a third possibility: She talks as if she is rich. Then 'was' with the main clause past can be either backshifting of 'is' (as in 'She said she was rich' where what she said was 'I am rich'), or it can be the same modal remoteness as in the present tense - that is, 'says she was' and 'said she was' are using 'was' in the same way, as less certain than 'is'.

    Although 'were' does imply she isn't rich, choosing 'was' or 'is' doesn't imply she is. It is all rather ambiguous, and it varies with personal taste too.
     

    bonbon2023

    Senior Member
    Korean(south)
    Hello. If I substitute 'was' for 'were' in the sentence below, does it still sound natural?


    She was glad inside but spoke as if she were indifferent.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    "Were" sounds good in that sentence, Bonbon. There is nothing wrong with using the past subjunctive in such sentences. I found myself getting a little confused over the meaning of "it". Your sentence could lead some readers to believe that the fire itself was being compared to "midwinter", which doesn't make any sense.

    Edit: Bonbon has changed the example in question. My earlier remark about "midwinter" refers to the first sentence that Bonbon asked about.

    "Were" also works in your new sentence, Bonbon.
     
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