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I'd like to know if the use of were is correct in the sentence below or if it should be replaced with was:

As if X weren't hard enough already, companies now face the challenge to deliver Y.

For your response, assume that X is hard enough already.


I'm aware that several questions related to the subjunctive "were" have been asked on this site. But they don't help me.

To clarify, I'm asking if the subjunctive mood is appropriate here. If so, I'd like to use the subjunctive. I'm not asking if it is OK to not use the subjunctive. (I know that in current English language it is more or less acceptable to not use the subjunctive even when it is called for.)

If it helps, I think my difficulty has roots in the negative phrase "weren't". I haven't found this negative subjunctive construction addressed anywhere.

marked as duplicate by Kristina Lopez, ScotM, Misti, FumbleFingers, Tushar Raj Jul 7 '15 at 16:32

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  • That's a good discussion, but not what I need. Please see my edit. – ba_ul Jul 6 '15 at 19:11
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    At first blush, both "weren't" and "wasn't" seem to be acceptable here. They would both be used for their modal remoteness meaning (er, what's sometimes called "subjunctive" use), to show the speaker's opinion that they doubt the statement "X isn't hard enough already" (the speaker's own opinion is that X is hard enough already). A past-tense verb form can often be used to show this modal remoteness; the irrealis "were" is usually only used for that purpose of showing modal remoteness (but don't confuse this "were" with the past-tense verb form "were"). – F.E. Jul 6 '15 at 19:20
  • Did you consider the distinction between realis and irrealis moods offered in Colin Fine's answer? @F.E. just remade the point! – ScotM Jul 6 '15 at 19:23
  • @F.E.: And as if that isn't enough, you have to put up with people saying another tense is also idiomatically acceptable! – FumbleFingers Jul 6 '15 at 21:06
  • @FumbleFingers: the subjunctive is a mood or aspect, certainly. I wouldn't call it a tense, though. – scottb Jul 7 '15 at 16:25

As if X weren't hard enough already, companies now face the challenge to deliver Y.

This is correct. As Peter Shor points out in his comment, the negative is hypothetical in this case.


To find the answer, we should ask why the subjunctive is used in the first place: most commonly to express potentiality or hypothetical situations. In your example, since X really is hard enough already, it would appear to be an actuality, but as @Peter Shor pointed out, the way it is phrased is hypothetical (the "As if" makes it so), so the subjunctive indeed should be used--"As if X weren't hard enough already..."

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    Isn't it that the negative situation is hypothetical? This is like saying "If he weren't here, I would have to make the decision." He is here, but the clause is hypothetical because the sentence is postulating that he isn't here, which is not true. So you can use the subjunctive. For the OP's question, X is hard enough, so the hypothetical is that X isn't hard enough. – Peter Shor Jul 6 '15 at 19:43
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    You can certainly find places where the subjunctive has historically been used in similar situations. From Google books: as if it were not hard enough in all conscience for people to be cooped up in bricks and mortar all the year, without having the slow-pointing finger of scorn proclaiming them cockneys whenever they venture forth for a breath of fresh air. – Peter Shor Jul 7 '15 at 11:28

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