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I will try to keep it short and simple.

How do you answer the question if this was asked as a question in person - “What is your favorite song?” I want to say I have many but if I had to select one, it will be Numb by Linkin Park.

So what is the best way to say this?

I have many favourite songs.

  1. If I am to select one, it would be Numb by LP
  2. If I were to select one, it would be Numb by LP
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  • I have many, but if I had to select one it would be Numb by Linkin Park.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 2:10
  • 2
    Both 1 and 2 are grammatical, as are If I had to select one... and If I have to select one... Which is "best" is disputable. What might be best and most common is to just answer with the name of the song. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 2:16

2 Answers 2

1

"If I were" is correct because you are talking about hypotheticals. "If I was" is incorrect unless you are making conditional ("if A is true, then B must be true") statements.

If I was at the bank at 4 PM on Friday, then I could not have been the man you saw at the supermarket at 4 PM on Friday. You must be mistaken.

If the package we sent in the mail last week arrives today, then we will get an e-mail notification at 4:30 PM today.

If I were to become rich... then I would buy a Lamborghini.

I hope this shows the difference.

"If I had to pick one" is just another way of saying "If I were coerced into picking one". Hypothetical scenarios use a verb form identical to the past tense of the verb except that we use "were" instead of "was".

Context makes the meaning obvious, but if your intent was to find out which one is correct, then you know now.

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  • Thanks Jonathan. Quick question - can we consider selecting one to be hypothetical? I totally agree that were should be used in hypothetical situation, but can selecting one of the two be regarded as a hypothetical question?
    – Coolxamith
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 3:29
  • Yes. If I were forced to choose between of the two. In this case you are not stating some rule of physics. It is still hypothetical. It does not have to be abstract or involve several choices to be hypothetical. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 3:39
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The context seems to be that you feel compelled to choose your favourite song.

If I am to select one, it would be Numb by LP

better represents this external compulsion than the alternative with were to. The same be + to-infinitive construction is seen in sentences such as:

  • I am to report to the boss at 11am today.
  • You are to leave the building immediately.
  • He is not to contact her again.

This construction is a more formal way of expressing obligation than must/have to.

The alternative sentence in the question:

If I were to select one, it would be Numb by LP.

is equally grammatical, but does not, of itself, express external pressure to make a selection. It simply states what would be the choice if the choosing were to take place.

That said, the most likely response in the present context would be:

If I had to select one, it would be Numb by LP.

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