Good day. I've been learning modal remoteness and the irrealis were, and I understand that the irrealis were is limited to 1st and 3rd person singular subjects. Now, my quesiton is, what should I use with the 2nd person singular? I've seen both "if you was" and "if you were" used in published books.

What's the difference between "If you was to crack it open" and "If you were to crack it open?"

Is 'you was' primarily used very informally? Like in this passage from Discworld: “An’ if you was a troll, he’d have all your teeth knocked out an’ make cuff links out of ’em.”


  • What you've been learning is WRONG! It's simply not true that the irrealis were is limited to 1st and 3rd person singular subjects. The proof of the pudding being that if you were being taught correctly (an "irrealis" condition, since you're not), you wouldn't think there was anything wrong with this sentence. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '17 at 17:33
  • The Cambridge Grammar of English and Grammar.about.com (among others) state that irrealis were applies only to be in 1st and 3rd person singular. Several respectable sources can't be misleading, right? As far as I understand, it's because of the differences between past indicative and past subjunctive in 1st and 3rd, but not in second. I was able to find 'if you was' construction in books like Golden Compass, Narnia, and Discworld . I assume it's a British thing? – Alexey Nekrashevich Mar 16 '17 at 17:48
  • I found this, which says irrealis were differs from the past indicative form of be only in the first and third person singular, where were is used. – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '17 at 18:28
  • ... that doesn't imply If you were king I'd be queen is invalid. It just means there's a difference between that and If I were king you'd be a queen, because if we were really talking about the past (rather than some hypothetical situation) we'd say either I was king or You were king. For first person we have to change the verb form to make it "subjunctive" - we don't need to do this with the second person, but it's still a subjunctive usage, even though the form of the word is unchanged. – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '17 at 18:33

The "you was" example reads as if it's an East London accent. "You were" is always the correct version, "you was" is informal and would only normally be written to demonstrate that a particular character speaks that way..

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  • That does make sense, since all the examples of 'if you was' I was able to find were from British authors and/or only in dialogue. Thanks. – Alexey Nekrashevich Mar 16 '17 at 17:49

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