Is there any difference between:

  1. If I were you, I would work harder.
  2. If I were you, I would have worked harder.

And can we use was rather than were in both sentences?

  • Is the issue with were/was or is it with have? Clarify. See also English Language Learners Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 6:31
  • 'Was' could work in both, except that the copula wants to agree with both 'I' and 'you'. 'Were' is more likely in #1, since it may be irrealis . 'Were' is preferred in both if they are counterfactual, and you can even drop the 'if', changing to "Were I you, I would ...". "Would have worked" is different, because it is perfect (sometimes called 'future in the past').
    – AmI
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 6:36
  • @Kris the main issue is have
    – Rani2Add
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 7:05
  • 1
    Then it's a good question. Since the sentence has a counterfactual were, either would be fine. "I would work harder." "I would have worked harder." The second form is clearly about the past, while the first is indefinite. Let me know if you need more on this.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 7:09
  • The title of the post may need to be changed, though.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 7:10

1 Answer 1

  1. Is there any difference

If I were you, I would work harder is subjunctive present, which means that the verb phrase "would work" expresses something that is a possibility, a wish or a desire rather than a fact (a fact is expressed using the indicative mood). The need to express this as a possibility rather than a fact is where we get "would" from, and "would" is not your problem. "Work" is present tense, so saying I would work harder means that if a certain condition is fulfilled, then what will occur is me working harder right now. The action occurs now, but only if something else happens too.

If I were you, I would have worked harder is subjunctive present perfect, which means that the time frame for this action indicated by the tense is before now, but could be continuing in the present, or is unfinished. (I have lived here and I have read a book and I have just finished my homework). Essentially, if the condition is fulfilled, then the action has already happened.

The difference is that one implies that if you were he, the action would occur now, whereas the other suggests that if you were he, it would already have happened.

  1. Can you use 'was' in both sentences

Traditionally, you cannot use 'was' in either sentence because of the subjunctive mood. In English, the subjunctive is nearly extinct, but its verb form for to be (past) is the same for all persons and numbers:

If I were / If we were

If you were / If you were

If he were / If they were

However, some authorities suggest that this is formal, written or archaic, and that the use of 'was' for first and third person singular is acceptable. I tend to lean towards tradition, but I suppose the choice is yours.

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