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Which sentence is correct?

  • If I could, I would find a hint which helps me.
  • If I could, I would find a hint which would help me.
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I would say the two sentences say two subtly different things:

  1. If I could, I would find a hint which helps me.

    If I were able to, I would find a hint which helps me, as opposed to a hint which doesn't help me.

  2. If I could, I would find a hint which would help me.

    If I were able to, I would find a hint, and this (finding a hint) would be a help.

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In the current state of the language, both can be considered correct and synonymous to each other. The form of the verb in the examples are past subjunctive. Scholars have been noticing that the subjunctive mood, in general, is disappearing; however, there are people who would prefer to use it at its proper form. The thing is though, their reasons are really absurd. For example, according to the Random House College Dictionary, "Although the [were] subjunctive seems to be disappearing from the speech of many, its proper use is still a mark of the educated speaker.". Sounds prescriptionist, right?

  • The disappearing subjunctive is not the subjunctive mood used in this question. It's the "were subjunctive", as in "if he were speaking grammatically, he would have used the subjunctive", and the "mandative subjunctive": "it is necessary that one use the subjunctive in this sentence". The first is on its last legs and would be dead right now if it were not taught in schools; the second is alive and well in America, and may be making a comeback in England. The subjunctive form (if you want to call it that) in this question is not endangered. – Peter Shor Nov 8 '13 at 9:15

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