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This is something that confuses me from time to time. When making an analogy in literature, is it better to use the phrase "as if" or "as though", or is it completely a style thing?

E.g.

She looked frazzled, as if she had just gotten off of a roller coaster.

or

She looked frazzled, as though she had just gotten off of a roller coaster.

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  • Non-native speaker opinion: it's totally a style thing and there's no difference in meaning whatsoever. Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 17:22
  • @ArmenԾիրունյան At the very least, "as though" feels a bit more formal than "as if", but I'm curious to know if there are actually any grammatic/meaning differences between the two.
    – devios1
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 17:43
  • As if! can be a sentence of its own, As though, cannot
    – mplungjan
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 21:16

5 Answers 5

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Garner in Modern American Usage (p67) has an entry on this. First he claims:

Attempts to distinguish between these idioms have proved futile. Euphony should govern the choice of phrase.

He then goes on to state:

One plausible distinction is that as if often suggests the more hypothetical proposition when cast in the subjunctive <as if he were a god>. ... By contrast, as though suggests a more plausible suggestion <it looks as though it might rain>.

However, I see no distinction in suggestion or meaning between the OP's two sentences.

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    That distinction would actually match the slang idiom use of "As if!" to imply something is completely implausible. Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 21:58
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I thought about this for a bit (maybe too long) and started feeling that "as though" seems to work better when addressing a condition. "It looked as though it might rain."

And "as if" works better when concrete situations/options/determinations can be considered. "It looked as if the game might be called off due to rain."

The difference is subtle, but it somehow gets clearer when you consider the effect of using "even if" or "even though" on similar phrases.

As though it really matters. As if I really care.

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'As if' is often used when talking about an imaginary situation that has no likelihood or probability of happening, e.g., 'He acts as if he were Superman', or '...as if he were God', or 'She walks as if she were floating.' 'As though,' on the other hand, is used when talking about a situation that may not be true but is possible or likely to happen, e.g., 'He looks as though he hadn't slept for days', or 'She sings as though she were a professional singer.'

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    This is an interesting way of differentiating between "as if" and "as though"—but I'm not aware of its being followed by large number of English speakers. Can you provide a citation to an authority on English usage that supports your understanding of the distinction between "as if" and "as though"?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 19:58
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    The difference between 'as if' and 'as though' is subtle, and the use of either is interchangeable, as most people already say. However—and I just found out now!—someone above had already cited the name of the scholar (Bryan Garner, Modern American Usage) whose opinion I based my understanding of the difference between 'if' and 'though' on. (I feel bad now; I practically just dittoed someone else's answer!)
    – Lance Lee
    Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 8:59
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It must have a lot to do with one's background, for I find myself always writing "as though," whereas my writer friend always writes "as if." Moreover, I see that Anita Brookner, of Hotel du Lac fame, a UK citizen, always writes "as if."

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This is just my opinion, but I always recommend "as if" because it means what the words say -- the situation being described is as it would be if the condition were true. "As though" is idiomatic, or perhaps archaic -- its meaning has little to do with the word "though". It surprises me that this distinction is never mentioned in any explanation that I have seen of the two phrases.

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