0

I just want to ask you guys about the general meaning of expressions that use the following pattern in colloquial American English:

If + subject + was/were + infinitive, ...

Examples: (Written by native American Speakers)

  1. If I was to make a booking, which rooms are the closest to the pool?
  2. If I was to say what I am, I'd be a Labor man.
  3. If you were to buy the iPhone 8 plus, will you be able to get it activated through Boost?
  4. What would happen to a cactus if it was to be planted in a rainforest?

And here is what I think it means: It’s a way to express a condition that didn't happen, and it could also be used to express a condition that is likely to happen in the future as in the first example.

Is that right, do Americans use the expression often? Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Are you aware of the underlying periphrastic construction that uses an inflection of the verb be followed by an infinitive as another way of saying will/would/should or be going to? If you are not, then we should probably explain the construction itself to you outside of its conditional use. On the other hand, if you do know that construction but just don’t know how it’s used in conditionals, you might see this related answer. – tchrist Feb 11 '18 at 0:44
  • Thanks @tchrist for your corrections, but I've seen the this related answer before submitting my question . What I wanna know exactly what this pattern used to express. By the way, the pattern is a result of looking up various phrases on the web. – CryptoBird Feb 11 '18 at 1:12
  • I mean, I didn't find it in a book or something, I made it myself. – CryptoBird Feb 11 '18 at 1:14
  • 1
    Note that #4 is wrong, because it speaks of an effect occurring before its cause. – Ben Voigt Feb 11 '18 at 4:17
  • 1
    @CryptoBird: That works, and here are two more variations: What will happen to a cactus if it is planted in a rainforest? (factual) and "What would happen to a cactus if it were planted in a rainforest?" (subjunctive counter-factural). And these versions of the clause can be used with both: when it is planted in a rainforest and after it is planted in a rainforest – Ben Voigt Feb 11 '18 at 21:13
1

The subjunctive mood is used to describe a situation that is hypothetical or imaginary. The most common way to spot the subjunctive is when a sentence starts with if. In all your examples, you would use were instead of was.

If I were rich, I would buy a big house.

If that were so, things would be very different.

It's also used for wishes, advice, and commands:

Wish

I wish I were taller.

I wish he were nicer to me.

Advice or Command

I advise that he discuss this with his wife.

It is important that he be ready to leave in the morning.

I insisted that she go to school.

I demand that he refund my money.

  • Thanks @David DeMar so, "If + subject + was/were + infinitive" has no thing to do with the subjunctive mood. – CryptoBird Feb 11 '18 at 0:30
  • But, do Americans use this pattern "If + subject + was/were + infinitive" often ? – CryptoBird Feb 11 '18 at 0:33
  • 1
    I am to guess that it's actually the basic underlying be + infinitive“ periphrastic construction itself — irrespective of its real or unreal uses — that is unknown here. – tchrist Feb 11 '18 at 0:47
  • Thanks @tchrist for your corrections, but I've seen the this related answer before submitting my question . What I wanna know exactly what this pattern used to express. By the way, the pattern is a result of looking up various phrases on the web. – CryptoBird Feb 11 '18 at 1:26
  • 1
    @CryptoBird: The likely explanation is that your examples are written by people who don't know the subjunctive, and don't care enough about grammar to be interested in learning it – Ben Voigt Feb 11 '18 at 4:13
1

Thanks to @tchrist, I'm convinced that this is just a “be + infinitive“ periphrastic construction.

In this case, The construction "If + subject + was/were + infinitive" is used to talk about precondition, in other words, in order for something to happen, something must be done beforehand.

Resources:

http://dualtexts.com/english/grammar-bank/83-to-be-done

"It is to be discussed", what is the infinitive doing in this sentence?

http://www.grammaring.com/be-to-infinitive

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.