Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have a few issues to discuss linked to the Future Subjunctive.

1) Can "If I were you." mean the same as "If I were to be you." In other words, can "If I were you." have the reference to the future which "If I were to be you." has?

If I were you at tomorrow's competition I would win. ? = ? If I were to be you at tomorrow's competition I would win.

2) Would you understand, if told, that "If I be you" means "If I were to be you"? Is this construction any popular in modern English or is it 100% obsolete?

If I be you at tomorrow's competition I will win.

3) Is this construction possible?

If I am happy at tomorrow's competition I will win.

share|improve this question
2  
Just a note on terminology: those have historically been analysed as a past, not a future subjunctive. English has never had a future subjunctive; few languages do. These days some people will try to tell you that those are in some other kind of mood or inflection or tense or construction, but it doesn’t actually change anything what they call them. –  tchrist Apr 6 '13 at 21:16
1  
A much more idiomatic way of saying this is: "If I were you, I would win tomorrow's competition." –  Peter Shor Apr 6 '13 at 22:40
2  
The phrase if I were you has a frozen form (which is why it's still were) and a particular usage. It is used to indicate that the clause following is intended to be advice, i.e, "If I were you, I would ...". It is not normally used to state hypothetical material implication, which is why all the sentences sound wrong. And of course tchrist is correct. Since there is neither a future tense nor a subjunctive mood in English, there can hardly be a fuure subjunctive. –  John Lawler Apr 7 '13 at 0:12
add comment

2 Answers

Please ask only one question at a time, not three.

  1. People do not say “If I were to be you”. I don’t know what that means if it does not mean “If I were you”.

  2. Apart from set phrases, the present subjunctive in if clauses is virtually dead in Contemporary English, if truth be told. It in any event never, ever means the same thing as the past version does, either.

  3. Yes, that is a perfectly normal construction.

share|improve this answer
add comment

1) & 3) I agree with tchrist.

1) Your example sentence does not make sense. If it means that 'I' would win the competition because 'I' is more skilled/intelligent than 'you', it would not be phrased in this way. It would more likely be phrased as:

If it were me in tomorrow's competition instead of you, I would win / If I entered tomorrow's competition instead of you, I would win.

If I were you is almost always used where advice is being offered to modify someone's behaviour. It is not literally what would happen if you were in the other person's place (with your superior skills etc).

eg If I were you I'd take that job / apologise for upsetting him / mow the lawn today because it's going to rain tomorrow.

@PeterShor's comment If I were you, I would win tomorrow's competition is advice to win the competition rather than lose it. It's not a statement of what would happen if 'I' entered the competition.

2) The only modern instance I can think of where you might use this construction would be in role-playing. Imagine John has an interview for a job, and he's not very good at interviews. Harry wants to help him by pretending to be John and showing him how he says the wrong things. So Harry suggests:

If you be the interviewer, I'll be you.

Another scenario might be hospital staff role-playing so that they get an understanding of each others jobs.

Doctor to nurse: "If I be you and bring the patient in, you be me and sit at the desk."

Both of these could be said in different ways (Supposing I be you/If I'm you and you're me) but I think you would hear these versions too without them causing any great confusion.

share|improve this answer
1  
I think your first sentence is actually missing a will: “If you’ll be the interviewer, I’ll be you.” Note that that is the semi–non-future kind of will in the first clause, more indicating consent or volition than simple futurity. Your second sentence is really interesting, and I’m still pondering it. –  tchrist Apr 7 '13 at 0:31
1  
@tchrist The If I be you ... be me is I think a conflation of more ordinary ways of saying this: If you'll be me ..,I'll be you OR You be me [imperative], and I'll be you OR Let's me be [infinitive] you and you be [infinitive] me. As it stands it sounds very unnatural to me, but it's a very "natural" sort of unnaturalness, the sort of thing that happens far more often than we notice when wires get crossed in the brain. –  StoneyB Apr 7 '13 at 1:07
1  
@tchrist [CONTINUED] Also note that you can't use simple am, are here because the sense is not existential but behavioral, what we normally use the progressive for (He's being funny, He's being Henry the Eighth) but can't here because hypotheticals/conditionals are involved. –  StoneyB Apr 7 '13 at 1:11
1  
@StoneyB That's my thinking too (the natural unnaturalness). Try substituting 'supposing' for 'if' - "Supposing I be you and stand here..." I can't explain the grammar, but it does sound like something that would arise in dialogue but not in text. I'll edit my original answer to try to explain more clearly. –  Mynamite Apr 7 '13 at 2:13
1  
@Mynamite Yes, I think that has the same force as my "Let's". In US English, however, we'd say Suppose rather than supposing. –  StoneyB Apr 7 '13 at 2:21
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.