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I saw that there were already examples on this, but I didn't find any specific enough. My problem is this sentence:

If there were anything that he didn't want, it was to hurt me.

I previously had the sentence written as:

If there was anything that he didn't want, it was to hurt me.

But both seem a little awkward to me.

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closed as off-topic by David M, MrHen, MετάEd, RyeɃreḁd, Mari-Lou A Mar 6 at 8:40

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Past tense (was) required here. Compare "If there was one thing he really wanted to avoid, it was hurting me." –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 5 at 20:12
1  
Even a present tense can be used here: “If there is anything he didn’t want, it was to hurt me”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 5 at 20:28
    
The only problem is that the sentence is in a short story that's written in past tense, and while I was changing everything to past tense I ran into this problem. Sorry, I should have specified! –  Rachel Mar 5 at 20:30
    
Writing advice is out of scope for this site. Similar questions might be on topic here, but this question is unlikely to be of any use to future visitors as it depends on a unique context. –  MετάEd Mar 5 at 23:53
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Were" would be subjunctive, expressing a condition contrary to fact ("If there were anything that he didn't want [but there wasn't anything that he didn't want]"); "was" would be a simple condition. So you want "was" here.

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Slightly off-topic, but I think it's the "anything" that makes the sentence a little awkward. Maybe "one thing" would be better.

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