Author Topic: was and were  (Read 5118 times)

LucyLastic

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was and were
« 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?

Offline Annmarie

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Re: was and were
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2014, 04:28:44 AM »
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LucyLastic

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Re: was and were
« Reply #2 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..."

Offline Matt Walker

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Re: was and were
« Reply #3 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.
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: was and were
« Reply #4 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. :)
« Last Edit: January 24, 2014, 05:19:34 AM by Annmarie »
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Lin

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Re: was and were
« Reply #5 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

Pale Writer

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Re: was and were
« Reply #6 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.

LucyLastic

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Re: was and were
« Reply #7 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. :(


Offline bonitakale

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Re: was and were
« Reply #8 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.


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Pale Writer

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Re: was and were
« Reply #9 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. :)

LucyLastic

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Re: was and were
« Reply #10 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. :-\

Offline AlanBaines

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Re: was and were
« Reply #11 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.

Jo Bannister

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Re: was and were
« Reply #12 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.

LucyLastic

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Re: was and were
« Reply #13 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.

JewelAS53

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Re: was and were
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2014, 06:37:00 AM »
I would have to use 'If I were' in dialogue because how I naturally speak  ;D