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'It wouldn't surprise me if it [was/were] true.'

Recently I have become interested in the use of the subjunctive mood in English; however, I am not entirely familiar with it yet.

Should the above sentence use "was" or "were", i.e. Does it require/should it use the subjunctive?

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    Either one works, both are grammatical, and there are two meanings involved -- one is counterfactual (i.e, the speaker does not believe it is true, but says that it would not surprise them to be wrong). This one is the one where were may be used in the singular; but was is just as good here. The other meaning is simply hypothetical -- the speaker does not know if it's true, but adds that neither outcome would surprise them. – John Lawler Sep 1 '15 at 0:14
  • In the singular? Isn't "were" just the proper form for counterfactuals regardless of number? – Brian Hitchcock Sep 1 '15 at 10:15
  • @BrianHitchcock Yes, in the singular. – Dog Lover Sep 1 '15 at 10:22
  • if I were, if you were, if he were, if she were, if we were, if they were, if it were – Brian Hitchcock Sep 2 '15 at 9:03
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Some people say were in this sentence, including me. But I hear many people saying was.

In other words, this is a sentence where you can use the subjunctive, if you are one of those people who like to use the subjunctive. But don't get too frustrated when you hear it with "was" -- and you will hear a lot of that.

Is it a subjunctive or not, despite people saying "was"/"were"?

I think we can say that it should use the subjunctive. But the subjunctive isn't required here in English, as it would be in certain other languages.

I try not to go around expressing the opinion that one should use the subjunctive, because that would just alienate the tons of people around me who don't use it. (But I can still have my private opinion!)

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  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. – choster Sep 2 '15 at 2:00
  • @choster - What I'm saying is that this is a sentence where you can use the subjunctive, if you are one of those people who like to use the subjunctive. But don't get too frustrated when you hear it with "was" -- and you will hear a lot of that. – aparente001 Sep 2 '15 at 2:14
  • Please edit your post to include your explanation. You are not new to StackExchange, and should know what constitutes a good answer. – choster Sep 2 '15 at 2:18
  • @aparente001 Thanks for the answer. This is why it confuses me: is it a subjunctive or not, despite people saying "was"/"were"? – Dog Lover Sep 2 '15 at 2:25
  • @aparente001 Thank you for the newly-edited answer - it was exactly what I was after. (I'll wait a little bit before accepting though just in case I get some more answers.) – Dog Lover Sep 2 '15 at 9:58

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