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Is there any significant difference between the following sentences?

  1. Were it to be thought tasteless, I wouldn't do it.
  2. Were it thought tasteless, I wouldn't do it.

Is the former implying that such thought would be slightly less likely? I'm British, but this question niggles!

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I'd say "Were it considered tasteless,..." and I think the "to be" is verbose. I see no difference in meaning. –  user21497 Nov 15 '12 at 8:18
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2 Answers

There’s a slight difference in meaning. The first allows the possibility that it might be thought tasteless at some point in the future. The second plays down this possibility and concentrates on the present. In practice, most speakers and listeners are unlikely to be sensitive to the distinction. Indeed, both are unlikely to occur in normal conversation at all. You might expect to hear instead something like ‘I wouldn’t do it if anyone thought it was tasteless.’

(Incidentally, although this use of were is still often described as an instance of the subjunctive, there are arguments for saying it is not.)

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I think I can convey oh-so-slight difference.

The first one implies imagination of the subject: "if I do it, they will be disgusted". Currently, the audience has not been aware such thing might even happen. It's a forethought of the subject taking expected reactions into account.

The other is about the audience already considering it: "I hope he doesn't try that, that would be disgusting!" - the act of forming opinion by audience is already realized. It's following the current public opinion, not just imagining the future one.

But the difference is moot due to "were" which implies neither thought happened actually.

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