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My question concerns the usage of "as if" as an idiomatic interjection. The references I have consulted (etymonline, online dictionaries, etc.) seem to agree that "as if" is used in this context to convey incredulity or doubt. This is how I have always thought of it.

The other day, I was with friends who used "as if" to express their surprise and joy about a wedding proposal. They weren't being sarcastic or incredulous; they were genuinely happy about the proposal. Here is a loosely paraphrased version of what they said:

"As if they're getting married!"

Is my friends' usage of "as if" standard? Is it a primarily regional distinction? (I am in Ontario, Canada right now.) The closest example we could come up with is someone says "I can't believe that you won first prize!" Of course, the person can and does believe it, so their words ought not to be taken literally. Is it the same idea with "as if"?

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@Carlo_R.: That's not necessarily true. For example, I find "It looks as if they're going to get married" to be far superior to "It looks as if they were going to get married." (Though the latter does exist. I still remember being weirded out, when I read Ethan Frome some dozen years ago, by the characters saying things like "It looks as if it were going to rain.") –  ruakh Oct 9 '12 at 21:59
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@d0sparky: You should definitely leave it as it is. –  ruakh Oct 9 '12 at 22:00
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@Carlo_R., ungrammatical or not, the question is about usage. –  JAM Oct 9 '12 at 22:15
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Don't touch the question. It's excellent as it stands; and it's about the linguistic fact (or at least your best recollection of the fact), which should not be tampered with. –  StoneyB Oct 9 '12 at 22:24
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@Anixx: No, "they're" always means "they are", never "they were". For example, *"When I talked to them yesterday, they're very angry" is ungrammatical. –  ruakh Oct 9 '12 at 22:48
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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The OED’s only entry for the colloquial use of as if is ‘Without clause, as an exclamation. Typically used as a sardonic response to a stated or reported suggestion’. Like you, I have never heard it used in any other way. You say that As if they're getting married! is ‘a loosely paraphrased version of what they said’. Did they perhaps actually say something different? They could, for example, have meant that there was so much celebration of this good news that it was as if they’re getting married already.

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I apologize; that part of my question was poorly explained. The question was "loosely paraphrased" in that I don't remember the exact wording. They may have said "As if they're getting married" or "As if they're engaged" or something to that effect. They didn't say anything that would have changed the meaning of the sentence, like already. –  user22138 Oct 10 '12 at 15:38
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The phrase as if is used extensively in the US, especially among the teenage and very young adult population.

It is used sarcastically, denying either the preceding statement or the statement that follows.

James and Jodie dating? As if!

As if I would ever go out with you.

The actual intent of the phrase is to convey It is not as if X is happening.

According to Urban Dictionary it means

YEAH RIGHT! [but sarcastically]
Made popular by the movie CLUELESS staring Alicia Silverstone. Meaning: I'm definetly not going to do that / not into that/ don't beleive that / etc. If a guy tells me he knows I'm in love with him (but I think he's a total loser), then I say to him "AS IF!"

In the US it would not be used in circumstances where the speaker agreed with or believed the associated statement.

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This is my experience, too. However: 1) It doesn't really address what OP claims to have heard, or OP's question, and 2) You may want to take into account the qualification at the end of definition #4 here -- which is, to be sure, voted down, but not overwhelmingly. –  StoneyB Oct 10 '12 at 2:29
    
@StoneyB I understand that OP may have heard a usage different from what I have described, but I have never heard such a usage in the US, Northeast or elsewhere. At least here, it is not standard. –  bib Oct 10 '12 at 11:58
    
FWIW I'm from the same jurisdiction as OP and I've never heard it either. –  JAM Oct 10 '12 at 14:08
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Only in the present tense, I imagine.

Look at Mary in her white dress, staring at John while he puts that ring on her finger; as if they're getting married.

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I recently moved to Ottawa, Ontario from New Brunswick, Canada, and was extremely confused with the usage you described above. Everyone I talked to had "as if" meaning "I believe it, but am shocked or incredulous at the news".

You get news that X is going out with Y, a surprising but plausible scenario. "As if X is going out with Y! Good for them!"

Whereas I did not have that meaning AT ALL. For me, "as if" has only one usage of "I completely do not believe the statement".

You get news that X is going out with Y, a completely impossible scenario that you do not believe for a second. "As if X is dating Y! Stop spreading rumours."

My friends' usage was completely confusing to me.

I first encountered it in writing, and I was genuinely hurt because I thought the other person did not believe me. Later, when I spoke to him, he explained that he DID believe me, but he was just shocked at what I had said.

I did a quick poll, and the people back in New Brunswick that I asked only had the "doubt" definition and not the "surprised" definition. I have also been wondering if it's a regional expression. Where in Ontario are you seeing it?

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