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Is there any reason to use the subjunctive mood in the question "If I asked, would she say it were/was time?" There's an air of uncertainty about "were" when compared to the past tense "was," but is it grammatical to use the subjunctive? Archaic?

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  • Turn the question into a sentence, "If I asked, she would say it was time." So the correct verb is "was." "If I asked, would she say it was time? Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 7:57
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    @ArchDenton In what way does that address the question about possible use of the subjunctive?
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 12:22
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    She would say if it were time, if I asked, wouldn't she?
    – Helmar
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 13:37
  • Short simple answer: you probably don't need the subjunctive for your sentence. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 2:01
  • @Helmar She would so say, if it was, as it were.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 19:01

3 Answers 3

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Fowler says the past simple is used in clauses that depend on a clause in the past subjunctive, so it should be was. I and almost everyone, I believe, will agree with this advice. There is no specific reason why this is so: in fact, the past subjunctive is possible or even compulsory there in other languages, or even in older English. I don't have the quotation on hand at the moment, but I'll try to find it.

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No, in fact the subjunctive "were" is not possible here. I don't know why. I can't think of an example in modern English where subjunctive "were" can be used in the "then" clause of an if-then construction. But in older English, we have Macbeth saying "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."

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"If I asked, would she say it were/was time?"

9h. The subjunctive were is used in contrary-to-fact statements (after if or as though) and in statements expressing a wish.--Warriner's.

To create the subjunctive mood, you would have to change your sentence to: "If I were to ask, would she say it was time?"

John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Fifth Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986. 208.

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