Is it grammatically correct to use an indicative verb after "as if", or "as though" for that matter?

I've heard someone say: "He walks as if he is drunk." Would there have been any difference if he had said "He walks as if he were drunk."?

A second example might be:

  • It looks as if it is going to rain.
  • It looks as if it were going to rain.
  • 10
    If you know he's not drunk, use as if he were. If you're not sure -- or wish to give that impression -- use as if he is. Aug 17, 2014 at 15:28

4 Answers 4


'Melanie' explains this usage of 'as if':

As if [can be] a [subordinating] conjunction. It is used to say how something seems from the information known. It is a more formal way of saying like, and is used in the same way as as though.

In ... the following sentences and examples, as if can be replaced with as though and like (in informal conversation).

It was great to see Luke again. It sounds as if he’s doing well in life.

My friend is under a lot of pressure at the moment. She feels as if she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

These examples use the indicative.

Although English Grammar Forum gives both the indicative and the subjunctive as grammatical options:

It looks as if it’s going to rain.

It feels as if it were going to rain.

the subjunctive sounds rather dated, high-falutin – even faintly ridiculous to my ears. The 'as if' conveys the sense of uncertainty perfectly adequately.

The situation with bare 'if' is not the same, where 'if he were drunk' and 'if he was drunk' usefully disambiguate.

  • 1
    If you backshift it, it sounds much more normal: “She said she felt as if it were going to rain.” Plus I wouldn’t necessarily trust an Englishman’s intuition in this: you use subjunctive forms much less frequently than we do in North America.
    – tchrist
    Aug 17, 2014 at 15:45
  • 1
    Yet you are happy to comment that the backshifted expression 'sounds much more normal' (with which I concur). Are you not thus saying that 'It looks as if it were going to rain' sounds a 'much less normal' usage (to the indicative choice, I must presume) even to your subjunctophile American ears? Aug 17, 2014 at 15:48
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    "It looks as if it were going to rain" means that you think it's not going to rain. But since you generally can't predict the weather, this isn't something you'd naturally say. "He looks as if he were drunk" (or the low-falutin alternative "he looks as if he was drunk") is much more natural, since there are times you can be reasonably sure that he's not drunk. See John Lawler's comment on the OP. Aug 17, 2014 at 16:18
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    It's no surprise to me to see that most of the early hits on Google for ""he looks as if he were sick" are exemplars from grammars (mainly for ESL students). This is not true for "he looks as if he is sick". Use of 'as if he were' after 'looks', 'sounds', 'feels', 'smells' etc does not sound at all natural to my ears. 'She’s behaving as if she were the Queen of England!' sounds far more natural, giving am obviously counterfactual comparison.... Aug 17, 2014 at 17:14
  • " 'As if' can also used to compare things, but in a way that says the comparison is not true. If you want to emphasize that something is not true, it’s possible to use a past tense after 'as if'. In American English it’s common to use 'were' ..." (see the first linked article in this 'answer'). Aug 17, 2014 at 17:14

What I have found bears out @John Lawler's comment.

Many grammarians (mostly purists) insist that both "as if" and "as though" must be followed by a subjunctive, not by an indicative verb, since they put an imaginary case (as he would if he were, etc.) But do they? There is surely a distinction between "He walks as if he were drunk." (implying "but he is not") and "He walks as if he is drunk", meaning "He is drunk judging from the way he walks". Similarly we have "It looks as if it is going to rain." (= It is going to rain, by the look of it), "It looks as if we will have to do the work ourselves". For these the indicative seems justifiable. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL14999310M/Current_English_usage.

Therefore, one would probably say "It looks as if it is going to rain" when the weather looks like that, but he could say either "as if he is drunk" or "as if he were drunk", depending on his degree of certainty.


I'd say the correct form would be : ...as if he was drunk?

I believe you could also use the present as a more relaxed or colloquial, but I'm French so no gaurantees.

Here's more on the use of Be to go further, http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/to_be.htm

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    Here were is the subjunctive, and is is the indicative; they're both completely grammatically correct, but mean slightly different things. And was is the currently commonly-used (but historically incorrect) replacement for the subjunctive; it means the same thing as were here. Aug 17, 2014 at 16:23

In the first example:

"He walks as if he is drunk"

he is not really drunk, otherwise there would be no point commenting on his drunken walk. As the drunken state is hypothetical it is irrealis, so the subjunctive is appropriate - He walks as if he were drunk

In the second example:

It looks as if it is going to rain

it really does look like rain so it is realis and the indicative is appropriate,

  • 3
    In the first example, the indicative "he walks as if he is drunk" is perfectly naturally if you don't know whether he's drunk or not, and are giving some evidence that he is. Aug 17, 2014 at 16:16
  • I agree that using 'is' could be natural, in the same way that "if I was rich..." is natural, but only because the subjubctive generally is being used less and less. However, if you don't know whether the individual in the example is drunk or not, then it is still irrealis. It is hypothetical, or an opinion, or a belief. The role of the subjunctive is to mark it as such so in pure grammatical terms it should be "he walks as if he were drunk". Whether that is common usage or not is a different issue... Aug 18, 2014 at 0:55
  • But you never really know that it's going to rain, unless it's already raining. And then you wouldn't say "it looks as if it is going to rain". So both your first example and your second example are opinions. I don't see the difference here. Aug 18, 2014 at 1:19
  • The walking drunk is right now, while the rain is a prediction. The prediction is based on current evidence of clouds or whatever, which is the "it looks as if" part, and the evidence of clouds is real. In short "it looks as if it is going to" is real and current, not hypothetical or an opinion or a belief, but "as if he were drunk" is. Aug 18, 2014 at 2:17

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