My Writers Circle

Writing => All the Write Questions => Topic started by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 04:14:34 AM

Title: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 04:14:34 AM
We say: I/he/she was. they/we were.

We wouldn’t say: they/we was, or I/he/she were.

So why do we say: If I were?
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Annmarie on January 24, 2014, 04:28:44 AM
Study the conditional forms in grammar:

http://www.edufind.com/english/grammar/if_conditional1.php (http://www.edufind.com/english/grammar/if_conditional1.php)

or

http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/rules/cond.htm (http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/rules/cond.htm)

 :)
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 04:47:23 AM
Thanks for the links, Annmarie.  :)

I understand the conditional thing regarding “if” and tense, but unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t explain why we say, "If I/he/she were…" as opposed to "If I/he/she was..."
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Matt Walker on January 24, 2014, 04:58:45 AM
Just seems to be one of those peculiar exceptions that you have to remember! Confuses me too.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Annmarie on January 24, 2014, 05:17:45 AM
English is a chaotic language, so don't sweat it. Sometimes you don't need to know why, such as with plurals. Why is mouse-- mice but house isn't hice?

Who cares, as long as you know which is correct. :)
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Lin on January 24, 2014, 05:54:51 AM
The words are a subjunctive mood. Known as a special form.

Just looked it up for you

If I were you I would phone him. - subjunctive mood
If I was you I would phone him. - Simple Past

A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it expresses a condition which is doubtful or not factual
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Pale Writer on January 24, 2014, 07:23:35 AM
Such a funny language this English is. I have always believed it is due to conditional terms.

I found this example and hope it helps

Quote
Yes, even though both are used interchangeably, I guess there is a point where one differs other.
Whenever, impossible situations(hypothetical ones) needed to be expressed, were would be used. If we rather wanted to express a past situation which could have been possible otherwise, was might replace were there.

1.) I could marry her if I were Tom cruise. (It seems quite impossible for me to be Tom Cruise)
2.) What would her reply be if he were to propose her. (He is in no mood to propose her or is incapable of doing the same)
3.) She might stay there if Moon were found suitable to live for.(We all know, as of now we, can not inhabitate Moon)

1). I would say hi to her if I was amongst them. (I wasn't there however could have been there)
2.) Later, she would feel sorry if he was treated bad by her.(He could have rather well been treated by her though).
3.) I beg my apologise if I was drunk.(I really was)

In our rush for brevity of language we often lose parts which help it run then wonder why it feels broken.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 08:08:23 AM
Thanks, Pale Writer. Yep, no doubt about it - English is a funny language.
In our rush for brevity of language we often lose parts which help it run then wonder why it feels broken.
I think that may have happened to the person you quoted. :(

Title: Re: was and were
Post by: bonitakale on January 24, 2014, 08:24:22 AM
The subjunctive has been dying for a long time now. You do have to remember it for "If I were you," and "Long live the king!"

In the US, though, it's still used for what my junior high teachers called "condition contrary to fact."

Subjunctive mood:

Present--If he were in Paris, he could stop at a cafe. If he were in Ankara, he could stop at a coffee shop. But here in Anytown, there is only McDonald's.

Past--If they had been in Paris, they could have stopped at a cafe... But here in Anytown, there was only McDonald's.

Future--If I were to go to Paris, I could stop at a cafe... But if I stay in Anytown, I will only have McDonalds.


Indicative (ordinary) mood:

Present--When I am in Paris, I can stop at a cafe. When I am in Ankara, I can stop at a coffee shop. But here in Anytown, there is only McDonald's.

Past--When I was in Paris, I could stop at a cafe... But when I was in Anytown, there was only McDonald's.

Future--Next summer, I will be in Paris, and I will be able to stop at a coffee shop... But when I come back to Anytown, there will be only McDonald's.


I'm a seat-of-the-pants grammarian, so someone with more knowledge may correct me.


Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Pale Writer on January 24, 2014, 09:02:35 AM
Yes, Lucy, that's the problem when giving examples, they are off the cuff and so invariably lack perfection. Then again I like a few mars in writing, makes a story more human-handed. :)
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 11:44:19 AM
Thanks for your input, bonitakale. :)

Matt and Annmarie, I guess it’s a case of “Ours is not to reason why” – ours is but to accept that it is as it is. :-\
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 24, 2014, 12:54:56 PM

If I were you I would phone him. - subjunctive mood
If I was you I would phone him. - Simple Past

If I were you, I would phone him. - present subjunctive
If I was you, I would phone him. - present bad grammar

Past would be either

If I had been you, I would have phoned him.
or
If it had been me, I would have phoned him.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Jo Bannister on January 24, 2014, 02:31:48 PM
On the whole, I've stopped using the conditional "If I were to do something".  I know how it works, I know when it's correct, but I choose not to use it when I feel it jars the sentence.  I think the time has come when strict adherence to this particular rule of grammar has become pedantic and counter-productive.

Others may of course feel differently.   Perhaps the tone of your writing is relevant too - what would sound forced in mine might sound perfect in yours.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 24, 2014, 02:53:16 PM
Thanks for that, Alan. What I couldn’t see was how changing “were” to “was” made the second example simple past and no longer doubtful or non-factual.

And thanks for your post, Jo. I suppose “if I were” does seem rather formal. I probably wouldn’t use it in dialogue, but would in narrative.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: JewelAS53 on January 25, 2014, 06:37:00 AM
I would have to use 'If I were' in dialogue because how I naturally speak  ;D
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 25, 2014, 07:04:02 AM
Me too, Jewel. But people often don’t speak in a grammatically correct way, and I’ve heard people say “if I was”. So rather than go against the grain, I chicken out and avoid any of my characters needing to say either.

I mean, we love our characters, don’t we? I don’t want mine committing that grammatical blunder.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: JewelAS53 on January 25, 2014, 09:38:28 AM
 :D
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Joe Mynhardt on January 25, 2014, 09:43:22 AM
I keep it simple and just ask myself if it's wishful thinking. If I were a rich man.  :D

Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 25, 2014, 10:36:12 AM
I think the time has come when strict adherence to this particular rule of grammar has become pedantic and counter-productive.

Yet it remains a rule. We cannot as individuals choose to ignore proper grammar and then expect publishers, editors, and even readers to accept that decision.

And I am hard pressed to understand how the use of proper grammar can be counter-productive. 
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Pale Writer on January 25, 2014, 08:40:44 PM
When they overpower the story. That's when they become counter productive.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: LucyLastic on January 26, 2014, 02:33:43 AM
Pale, by "they" do you mean correct usages of grammar? I'm at a bit of a loss, too, because I don't understand how correct grammar can overpower a story.

I can, however, understand how incorrect grammar can detract from a story by making it difficult to read.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 26, 2014, 03:13:18 AM
I can understand not wanting to write in a formal and stilted manner. I would prefer to read:

Ben felt bad about all the things Jane had been going through.

rather than

Ben felt bad about all the things through which Jane had been going.

But if I read "If I was you I'd phone him," I would not assume it was a style choice. I would assume the author was lacking in grammar skill.

Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Pale Writer on January 26, 2014, 08:16:57 AM
I guess it depends how you look at grammar, and what is correct. When is one more powerful than the other.

Maybe we won't see eye to eye in this subject so discussing it will lead no where.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 26, 2014, 12:11:06 PM
Pale Writer, you may opt of the discussion if you wish. Others might feel different. Someone might be learning something.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Laura H on January 26, 2014, 02:54:31 PM
When they overpower the story. That's when they become counter productive.

I agree with this. When I read a story I don't want a grammar lesson, I want a page turner.

There's a difference between writing in a conversational tone and poor grammar.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: Jo Bannister on January 26, 2014, 03:41:09 PM
Sorry, Alan, but even those arbiters of English usage at the Oxford English Dictionary have flagged this one up as yesterday's grammar.  That doesn't make it wrong, just old-fashioned.  And there are places where strict adherence to an old-fashioned rule seems right, but increasingly there will be more where it seems wrong. 

Pale hit the nail on the head: she doesn't want a grammar lesson - especially in a usage no longer universally accepted - she wants the book she's reading to flow.  If you notice the grammar, it isn't doing its job.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 26, 2014, 04:33:37 PM
When I read a story I don't want a grammar lesson, I want a page turner.

I fail to see how reading a book written with proper grammar equals getting a grammar lesson.
Title: Re: was and were
Post by: AlanBaines on January 26, 2014, 04:42:17 PM
When I read a story I don't want a grammar lesson, I want a page turner.

There are two situations where proper grammar is not required.

1) in dialogue, where anything goes
2) in a first-person narrative where the narrator is a Huck Finn-type, a character not expected to be grammar literate.

With the exceptions of those above, can you name even one published page-turner you've read that didn't use proper grammar? (Self-published stories don't count.)