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52

When in doubt, always use the subjunctive mood: If I were you... It will make you sound smarter and it is technically correct since "the subjunctive mood is used to express a wish or possible situation that is currently not true."


38

Since your name seems Indian, I'll also mention a common Indian-English idiosyncrasy that may clear up matters for you. There is a tendency in Indian speech to use "could" for "can", and "would" for "will". This is wrong (or, to avoid being prescriptive, certainly at variance with other varieties of English, and non-standard even in India). Properly, "could" ...


22

I mentioned this in another question, but just because the morphological inflection is disappearing, that doesn't mean the subjunctive mood is actually disappearing from the language. Just like when most of our verbal inflection disappeared (now it's "I go", "you go", "we go", "they go"), that doesn't mean we lost verbs for first person singular and plural, ...


19

To keep it simple, I answer you without complex grammatical terminology. There are five possible situations of using can. 1. Ability In the first situation, we use can with a meaning of ability. For example, "I think I can lift the box" means that the speaker thinks that she/he is able to lift the box. The past tense form of the sentence is "I thought I ...


18

"Could" is the subjunctive form of "can." That means you use it to express possibilities and the like. "I could go to the movies, but I might just stay home." When "could" is used as the past-tense of "can," you're talking about something you used to be able to do, but can't anymore, so whatever action you're speaking of is hypothetical. "I could have gone ...


16

Well, "if I was" can be valid for the past, I guess. If I was wrong, please forgive me. That aside, I think one of the other answers is right that in British English — at least spoken — both are acceptable and probably equally common. (The 'were' version sounds more 'educated'.)


15

Prescriptively, you're correct, this should be were since this is being expressed with the subjunctive mood. Descriptively, I think you'll find both in the wild. In informal speech, most people I know would prefer was in this case (and those that don't are sticklers for the subjunctive). I do think that you are much more likely to see were written though, ...


15

In general, the subjunctive mood should be used in "a statement contrary to fact, a wish, a mandative statement" (from this guide). I think "statement contrary to fact" could also often be considered a hypothetical, so I will refer to it as that. In your first example, you are expressing a wish or possibly a mandative statement, "I suggest" and so it ...


13

In response to the originally posed question, John Lawler wrote a somewhat amusing, (pedantically) accurate, but highly confusing comment, one which I feel deserves translation and further elaboration into something more resembling an actual answer. John said: A useful and concise conception of the English subjunctive mood is that it is a mythical ...


12

It's if I were for hypothetical in the present or future and if I was when talking about something presumed true in the PAST. "IF" then means something likened to "since". If I were class president, I would represent our class very well for the next four years. If I was at the party last night, I don't remember. It's an old, residual rule from ...


12

Well, both sentences are grammatical, but they mean different things. It depends on what you're trying to say. The first means, that if you had money, you'd fly there now or some point in the future. The second can mean one of two things, depending on whether "had" is intended to be 'hypothetical' or a genuine 'past reference': so it could mean either (a) ...


11

The rule that I was taught is that was is for things that could be true but aren't, and were is for things that could never be true. So, if I was an airline pilot is OK because conceivably I could retrain as a pilot, if I wanted. But if I were you is right because I will never be you.


11

Old English most certainly had a subjunctive. In fact, it had two, present and preterite, and they were inflected for person and number. English now has three kinds of subjunctive (perhaps two, see below), the mandative, the formulaic and the were–subjunctive. The mandative is seen in sentences such as ‘I demand that he go.’ The formulaic appears in fixed ...


11

I suspect the answer is "Neither of them". There are three possible clauses in this situation, and they have subtly different meanings. If we were to agree, do you think we could start next month? is a remote hypothetical ('I know it's unlikely, but just suppose'). If we are to agree... would normally preface some sort of demand, like ...you will have to ...


11

For those who are a little confused by Barrie England's answer... She suggested that he go to the cinema. and She suggested that he goes to the cinema. are both correct, but they have different meanings. Here's how she might suggest that he goes to the cinema: ALICE: Where do you think he goes every Thursday evening? JANE: Hmm ... well ... cinema ...


11

Neither of your two questions makes sense as written, and I do not know what the intent is. For one thing, I don’t understand why they are questions; they do not look like such to me. For another, the formulaic “be they X or Y ”, using present subjunctive and inversion as it does, is of a somewhat elevated register which may not be appropriate for all ...


11

Even were he not to care himself. . . is an alternative way of saying Even if he were not to care himself . . . The stress in the clause would naturally fall on not. Another example is Were he to work harder, he might make a success of his business instead of If he were to work harder, he might make a success of his business. It is a rather literary form, ...


11

As FumbleFingers noted, keep is acceptable. As to which is 'more right', if it is possible to have degrees of correctness, that is a question of style rather than grammar. In the antediluvian days of my youth, "I insisted that he kept..." could mean only that he kept ... at some past time, and at some later time I insisted on the truth of this. "I ...


10

The difference between the two is one of style, were(n't) being more formal than was(n't). The authors of 'The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language' (Huddleston and Pullum) go so far as to say that this verb form isn't subjunctive at all, preferring to describe it as irrealis. As they say: This use of were is highly exceptional: there is no other ...


10

Were is the plural past tense form of be, used here in a counterfactual conditional idiom construction that is given various names, including "subjunctive", which often apply to other European languages, though not to English. In fact, however, tense is not what you need to know here. Tense only has to do with time -- past and present only in English -- and ...


9

Part of the answer is that the subjunctive ended up with almost no functional load. In most of its uses it is distinguished syntactically from other constructions, so morphological distinction is redundant. (e.g. 'Long live the King!', 'I demand that he be silenced' The major exception to this is in conditionals, where it traditionally distinguishes ...


8

The difference is one of mood and tense. kitukwfyer hits all the right notes here. The subjunctive also helps differentiate the forms in questions. Compare: Could you run (please)? Can you run? Could lends politeness to a question in a request of someone. I’d more likely say, “could you help me”, than “can you help me?”.


8

Younger people would never use 'were', here in Australia at least. From the point of view of grammar, both are OK nowadays. It's interesting to note, that IELTS would accept both while TOEFL would be very reluctant to accept 'was'.


8

"I would prefer it if the meeting were postponed." Here's where you need the subjunctive mood to express a hoped-for or hypothetical outcome. More here if you need it. If you want to delete "it," then you have to revise slightly: "I would prefer that the meeting be postponed."


8

Both of your examples are correct. They have different meanings. It is important that John brings his lunch to school. In this sentence, brings is indicative and indicates that John does bring his lunch to school, and that fact is important. Whereas: It is important that John bring his lunch to school. In this sentence, bring is subjunctive. ...


8

No. It sounds old-fashioned, but searching through Google books for such phrases used in the 1800s, I did not find a single instance of anybody using "be it me" or "be it I" in this way. What you're looking for is "were it me" or "were it I"; this usage requires the past subjunctive and not the present subjunctive. Here are some examples: Why, were it ...


8

In formal speech and writing, counterfactual clauses beginning with as if and as though take imperfect subjunctive, which means the were form in the case of to be, the only verb in English specifically marked for that tense. This the same tense you use with wish. For example, It looked as if it were already done. I wish it were done already. She dressed ...


8

The only one that is correct in the scenario you present is #1: If Jeff is still alive today, he is 30 years old. The is in the first clause corresponds to the is in the second. I'd say that numbers 2 and 3 (If Jeff is still alive today, he will be 30 years old and If Jeff is still alive today, he would be 30 years old) would work in speech, but not ...


8

It is a mandative subjunctive, but its use is not obligatory.



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