I saw that there were already examples on this, but I didn't find any specific enough. My problem is this sentence:

If there were anything that he didn't want, it was to hurt me.

I previously had the sentence written as:

If there was anything that he didn't want, it was to hurt me.

But both seem a little awkward to me.

  • 2
    Past tense (was) required here. Compare "If there was one thing he really wanted to avoid, it was hurting me." Mar 5, 2014 at 20:12
  • 1
    Even a present tense can be used here: “If there is anything he didn’t want, it was to hurt me”. Mar 5, 2014 at 20:28
  • The only problem is that the sentence is in a short story that's written in past tense, and while I was changing everything to past tense I ran into this problem. Sorry, I should have specified!
    – Rachel
    Mar 5, 2014 at 20:30
  • Writing advice is out of scope for this site. Similar questions might be on topic here, but this question is unlikely to be of any use to future visitors as it depends on a unique context.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 5, 2014 at 23:53
  • @MetaEd, it is useful to me. The question came up quickly in the search results and the accepted answer also answered my question. Seems like the question could be reopened.
    – Suragch
    Mar 19, 2021 at 8:50

2 Answers 2


"Were" would be subjunctive, expressing a condition contrary to fact ("If there were anything that he didn't want [but there wasn't anything that he didn't want]"); "was" would be a simple condition. So you want "was" here.


Slightly off-topic, but I think it's the "anything" that makes the sentence a little awkward. Maybe "one thing" would be better.

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