Were or was

titan2

Senior Member
USA English
Which of these is correct?


They acted as if it was the nineteenth century.

They acted as if it were the nineteenth century.
 
  • emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    Both are correct. You will hear the first one more often than the second, although many educated people will prefer the second, since it appears to use the subjunctive after an "if" clause.

    If it's for an exam, use the second.
     

    dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    I agree with emma, though around here, I think that this kind of 'if' clause is one the few where I hear the subjuncitve used properly most of the time. I don't want to get into an arguement over the subjunctive, but I'd say you should always use 'were' in an academic or professional situation.
     

    titan2

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I am asking because in my example the subject performed the action. It's in the past.

    Another example:

    What if Napolean was to have won at Waterloo?

    What if Napolean were to have won at Waterloo?


    Presently, we would say, "What if Napolean were to win at Waterloo?"
     

    adele6

    Member
    US-English
    titan2 said:
    I am asking because in my example the subject performed the action. It's in the past.

    They may have acted in the past, but it was not actually the nineteenth century; so it is still hypothetical. I agree that many people say "was," but it hurts my ears.:)
     

    dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    I think I understand your question now. If you use want to express a hypothetical situation in the present, you would use past subjunctive.

    "They are acting as if it were the nineteenth century."
    "What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?"

    In the past you have a few options.

    1. Past subjunctive

    "They acted as if it were the nineteenth century."
    "What if Napoleon won at Waterloo?"

    2. Pluperfect subjunctive

    "They acted as if it had been the nineteenth century."
    "What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?"

    3. Past subjunctive + perfect infinitive

    "They acted as if it were to have been the nineteenth century."
    "What if Napoleon were to have won at Waterloo?"

    The use of these depends on a variety of facters including what you want to express and the length of the action (continuous or instantaneous). However, for the 19th Century sentence, you should use the first. For the Napolean sentence, you could use either the for or second, though I would use use the second to avoid wordiness.

    Hope this helps.
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    titan2 said:
    I am asking because in my example the subject performed the action. It's in the past.

    Another example:

    What if Napolean was to have won at Waterloo?

    What if Napolean were to have won at Waterloo?


    Presently, we would say, "What if Napolean were to win at Waterloo?"

    Neither of the above.
    Use, "What if N had won at Waterloo?"
     
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