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Weird one, but here's a partial sentence I recently heard a coworker use:

"The only way that meeting could have been more boring, was if/is if/were if...."

I won't say which she used, as I'd like to get a general opinion on what should have been used. (If this sentence makes sense at all in general.)

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  • 2
    Welcome to EL&U. This isn't supposed to be a puzzle. Please share all the relevant context. – Rupert Morrish Feb 22 '18 at 20:43
  • @user283146 I think I'm confused on whether you actually have a question or if you're presenting a question as if a quiz. We aim not to give opinion-based answers and aim not to ask opinion-based questions. Could you please rewrite this question with a more proper context, and identify the portion you're having problems with? – psosuna Feb 23 '18 at 0:05
  • I think the OP was skeptical about their coworker's choice of tense and just wanted to do a poll to see other people's intuitive choices, which, indeed, is not a typical way of asking questions here... Can the forum introduce a new feature that allows English learners to poll though? I sometimes also feel that need... – Jenny Feb 5 at 18:20
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"was if" gets my vote because in summary the sentence says "The only way that X was Y".

Resist the temptation to insert conditional or subjunctive or other unnecessarily complicated verb forms.

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To balance everything out nicely you’d need this:

The only way it could have been more boring...
... would have been it if had been a movie about watching paint dry.

But many people would say that more simply, without propagating the perfect aspect down to the other verbs:

The only way it could have been more boring...
... would be it if were a movie about watching paint dry.

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It's not "is if" because they're not talking in present tense - if the sentence were "The only way this meeting could be more boring" then "is if" would come to play.

I'm not 100% sure about the other two but I think "were if" is more grammatically correct because they're talking about something that's not superficial or physically possible.

I think it the same reason why Beyonce sings 'If I were a boy' and not 'If I was a boy'. In contrast, in Joan Osborne's 'One of us', she sings: "What if God was one of us", which is considered grammatically incorrect.

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  • Welcome to EL&U. Please only post answers that answer the question. – Rupert Morrish Feb 22 '18 at 20:44
  • @RupertMorrish I think this answer does address the question, using supporting arguments. It sounds more AmE than BrE, though - AmE is said to use the subjunctive a lot more consistently in this context. – Lawrence Feb 23 '18 at 1:11
  • Thank you, I edited out the discussion part - I realized it's not a forum. – S.Frogile Feb 23 '18 at 13:51
  • The were would follow the if. What we were asked about was the verb that precedes the if. – JeremyC Feb 23 '18 at 16:58

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