People looked at me as if I were mad

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by noelucha, Jul 26, 2013.

  1. noelucha New Member

    Castellano, Uruguay
    Esta bien si digo: "People passed close and looked at me as if I WERE mad."
  2. Wandering JJ

    Wandering JJ Senior Member

    British English

    A lo mejor: "People passed close by and looked at me as if I WERE mad."
  3. echinocereus Senior Member

    English United States
    Me gusta la preposición agregada por Wandering JJ, Noelucha. Me pregunto cuál es la oración original en español. (?) Un saludo. :)
  4. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Supongo que es 'la gente me miraba (de cerca) como si estuviera loca'. La pregunta es sobre el subjuntivo.
    Tu frase original es totalmente correcta, pero más coloquialmente se usa el pasado: ... at looked at me as if I was crazy.
  5. Adolfo Afogutu

    Adolfo Afogutu Senior Member

    O: la gente pasaba cerca de mí y me miraban como si estuviera loco. Y no se equivocaban.
  6. echinocereus Senior Member

    English United States
    Pero si la oración fuera "la gente me mira como si estuviera loco" la traducción sería "people look at me as if I were crazy."
  7. MinaDidi Senior Member

    English, USA
    It's unclear to me if the issue is a decision between "if I were crazy" and "if I was crazy," but since "were" is in all caps, I'll make that assumption. As duvija mentions, "if I was crazy" is a common colloquialism, but grammatically there is a distinction. Use of the subjunctive implies a situation contrary to fact. The meaning is then "as if I were crazy [which I am not]." If you say "as if I was crazy" it leaves open the possibility that you are crazy.
  8. Iniciativa Member

    United States
    English - American
    Yes! That is the actual, correct way to say it, and that is an example of the English subjunctive. Many don't use it frequently, but this is correct grammar. "was" is incorrect entirely.
  9. noelucha New Member

    Castellano, Uruguay
    la oración en español sería: "la gente pasa a mi lado i me mira como si estuviera loca" Gracias x las respuestas
  10. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Really? I think it's a matter of usage with no difference in the degree of craziness we assume we have... In both cases, we may or may not be crazy. Participation in this forum, puts us immediately in the first group.:D
  11. echinocereus Senior Member

    English United States
    Gosh, Duvija, I hope not! :D

    The use of “as if I were” and “as if I was” has bothered me for years. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m influenced by Spanish where “como si” is followed only, so far as I know, by past subjunctive.

    When I use “if I were” or “as if I were,” I am very comfortable with the subjunctive, in English as well as in Spanish, so long as the meaning is contrary to fact in present time. Many English speakers who are acquainted with our surviving subjunctive after “if” often use it all the time, every time they need “if plus to be,” which is our most obvious subjunctive “if” situation, requiring “if I were” instead of “if I was.” Many of those uses in English are wrong, just as they would be wrong in Spanish. Examples:

    Context: I saw everybody at the Halloween party – in masks and costumes. Mary asks me the next day whether I saw John there. I say that I’m not sure, but since I saw everybody who was at the party –

    If John was there, I saw him. (no subjunctive, a neutral condition, if A, then B)
    Si Juan estaba allí, lo vi. (similarly no subjunctive in Spanish for the same reason)

    Now about the “as if” in English and Noelucha’s question:

    People look at me as if I were crazy. (present time, a contrary-to-fact “if clause” with subjunctive)
    La gente me mira como si estuviera loco. (subjunctive in Spanish after “como si”)

    People looked at me as if I was crazy. (past time, a “neutral” situation again???, “were” sounds wrong to me)
    La gente me miraba como si estuviera loco. (subjunctive in Spanish after “como si”)

    I opted for the indicative in English in the past tense situation above, as did Duvija, and for me I did so because I did not find a contrary-to-fact “if” clause in present time and the “were” sounded wrong to me. The sentence in the past seems to admit the possibility that I could be crazy or I could be sane.

    Contrary-to-fact “if” clauses in English in past time use past perfect – pluperfect subjunctive in Spanish.
    Back to my Halloween party. The week after the party John has told me that he was not at the party and when Mary asks me whether I saw John at the party, I say:

    John didn’t attend the party, but if he had been there, I would have seen him.
    Juan no asistió a la fiesta, pero si hubiera estado allí, lo habría visto.

    And adding the “as if” element to my party situation:

    John is a “know-it-all” and although he didn’t attend the party, he talked as if he had been there.
    Juan es un “sabelotodo” y aunque no asistió (or asistiera) a la fiesta, habló como si hubiera estado allí.

    I realize I have mixed “if” and “as if” situations, but I believe the problems of subjunctive/indicative choices are related. I am comfortable with my choices of subjunctive/indicative in “if” and “as if” situations in Spanish, but the one in English with an “as if” in a simple past tense situation has always bothered me. I have regularly opted for “as if” plus indicative when the context does not present an obvious contrary-to-fact situation. I would be interested in the views of other foreros on this matter.

    Saludos. :)

  12. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    I agree. In BrEng, the use of the subjunctive in this situation has died out, and it is dying in AmEng, but the correct way to say it is "if I were ...." It is a counterfactual situation, which calls for the subjunctive. Unfortunately, you will hear educated speakers say "If I was ..." and write it too, but until the authorities agree that the subjunctive in this situation has died in AmEng, it is better to use "If I were ...."
  13. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Listen to yourself. If it has died up in Br.Eng and it's dying in Am.Eng, why do you want people to use it? At least, they should be able to understand what somebody else says...
  14. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Somehow it has been "dying" in AmEng for several centuries, without getting any closer to not being used. ;)

    I see a subtle difference between "as if I was" and "as if I were" in a past tense scenario.

    First, without "as", there is a clear difference:

    If I was crazy = "Si yo estaba/estuve loco".
    If I were crazy = "Si yo estuviera loco".

    I am not sure about the Spanish tenses, but in English the "past" subjunctive is usually used in connection with present time, but it can also be used in past tense situations:

    If I were already crazy yesterday, ... ["had been ... yesterday" might mean "were ... before yesterday".]

    And it can be used with anything dubious, even if not really contrary to reality:

    If I were to die tonight, ... [I can say this just to allow for the possibility that I die tonight, without implying that I won't die tonight. The use of were here indicates not that my death cannot occur tonight but that I am not comfortable with the idea.]

    When we add "as", we are no longer really talking about whether I was crazy, but about how people looked at me. I would prefer to use were in the sentence in question because I deeply believe I am not, and was never, crazy, nor am I comfortable with the idea of being crazy.

    However, "as if I was crazy" can convey a legitimate idea because people may have really looked at me the same way they might look at an actual crazy person, regardless of what I know or what I may be uncomfortable with.
  15. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    First, as to BrEng, I don't recommend that people use the subjunctive because it is no longer standard English there. I also don't recommend that people refer to "trucks" instead of "lorries" because that is not the word that they use over there. But I need to mention the BrEng is different in this respect so I convey an accurate picture.

    As to AmEng, Why? Because to an educated speaker, the use of "was" instead of "were" in this situation sounds substandard. It may be dying in everyday use, but the subjunctive is still considered standard English when speaking of counterfactual situations. I assure you, understanding is not a problem. If I say, "If I were you, I would ..." native speakers have no difficulty understanding me. This is exactly the same usage of the subjunctive as in Spanish, no? Why not make it easy for hispanohablantes to transfer that way of thinking into English. The subjunctive in Spanish comes easier to me in this area because I can make a direct translation: Si yo fuera tu is just the same as in terms of the subjunctive as "If I were you."

    The conventional wisdom espoused by most of the language-learning books I have read is that learners should emulate standard usage.. When learners become fluent and familiar with the way the local people speak, they can safely imitate the mistakes of the locals too.
  16. SevenDays Senior Member

    While I understand that some people might prefer "were" over "was," I'm not sure that I see the objection to the use of "was" on grammatical grounds, particularly in contexts that are counterfactual. What I mean is this: I don't think anyone would object to "if I had money, I would buy a car," yet this sentence is counterfactual (I don't have money) and properly uses the indicative simple past had. Why would the simple past of the indicative be appropriate in one counterfactual construction ("if I had money, I would buy a car") but not in another ("If I was president of the company, I would hire more people") that is just as counterfactual (I'm not president of the company)? The simple past of the indicative fits in one and the other because both sentences already express subjunctive meaning; they are already counterfactual, that being the effect of the conjunction "if," which puts us in the realm of hypothesis, of possibility (and that's why some call "if" a subjunctive conjunction). Because both sentences are counterfactual, we can place that counterfactuality, from the perspective of the speaker, closer to reality with the present indicative (If I have money, I buy a car; if I'm president of the company, I hire more people) or away from it with the past indicative (if I had money; if I was president).

    Now, the idea, as I understand it, is that "were" should displace "was" because "were" is past subjunctive, but this is not entirely accurate. Yes, it is past subjunctive, but past subjunctive from Old English, and it's a form that has survived into modern English. However, in modern English, the subjunctive has one striking characteristic: it is uninflected, taking the form of the bare infinitive. This is clearly seen in so-called mandative constructions: I demand that she speak to me. Because it is uninflected, the form doesn't change when the sentence is shifted to the past: I demanded that she speak to me. From the perspective of modern English, then, neither "was" nor "were" is subjunctive in form. In contexts where the subjunctive form (the bare infinitive) doesn't fit, modern English relies on other linguistics means to convey subjunctive meaning, such as modal verbs (would, may, might, etc.) and the simple past of the indicative, such as "was" and "had" from the previous examples. In if I were king, I'm using "were" as a remnant of Old English subjunctive that's still alive today; in if I was king, I'm using the simple past of the indicative to convey subjunctive meaning. Both "was" and "were" work because the sentence is already counterfactual/subjunctive by virtue of the conjunction "if." The same holds for "as if." Because "as if" establishes counterfactuality, we can use the indicative from modern English and the past subjunctive of Old English to present that counterfactuality as a given (people look at me as if I am crazy) or as a possibility (as if I was crazy) that can be even more "unreal" (as if I were crazy). Two further points about "were;" because it is past subjunctive in form (from Old English), it doesn't change form when shifting to past time: people look at me as if I were crazy, people looked at me as if I were crazy. Second, if there is no counterfactual meaning, "were" can't be used, as in if John was there, you were there too.

    Of course, nothing prevents us from using "were" in every counterfactual situation; I just don't think that doing so means "was" is grammatically incorrect.
  17. Wandering JJ

    Wandering JJ Senior Member

    British English
    The assumption that the use of the past subjunctive has died out in BrEng is incorrect, although I admit that a large number of speakers now use the past indicative [of the verb 'be'] because they don't know any better.

    Food for thought: most verbs have a past subjunctive that is now identical to the indicative form, so to say that "if I had money, I would buy a car" does not use the subjunctive may be an incorrect assumption.
  18. LaReinita

    LaReinita Senior Member

    East Coast, USA
    USA (Northeast Coast)-Inglés
    I agree with the usage of "were" here as well. When people use "was" in place of "were"'s like nails on a chalk board. Just because many have embraced the usage of improper English, doesn't mean that the rest of us should follow suit.
  19. Wandering JJ

    Wandering JJ Senior Member

    British English
    I liked your response until I saw a comma between 'English' and 'doesn't'.:)
  20. echinocereus Senior Member

    English United States
    Just call it an "errant comma," Wandering JJ. :)
  21. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    More like 'wandering comma'... :cool:

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