Yesterday I heard someone saying "If I were born in 1920s, my name would have been Margaret" and I was confused why she didn't say 'If i had been born in 1920s', what's the difference here?

  • 3
    It seems like hypercorrection to me. She was trying to use the subjunctive mood, and so used were incorrectly. It should be had been, or, to keep using were, were to have been … my name would be.. – Jason Bassford Aug 7 '20 at 18:09
  • 4
    A native English speaker would say "If I were (or had been) born in the 1920s". – Michael Harvey Aug 7 '20 at 19:03
  • 1
    Where did you hear this? I sounds like an English regional dialect to me, possibly East Midlands or some parts of Yorkshire. – BoldBen Aug 7 '20 at 20:04
  • It certainly might be regional. Many nongrammatical speech constructions are. "Were" here means the same thing as "had been" and is not grammatically correct. – R Mac Aug 7 '20 at 20:20
  • I'm upvoting this question because of the dozens of similar questions at Quora, Word Reference, etc., none of which have a clear, correct answer. This is evidently a very common stumbling block. It may have reached the point where we just have to accept it as informal. – Phil Sweet Aug 8 '20 at 2:14

A subjunctive form of the verb is used when talking about hypothetical scenarios.

When you’re describing a wish or an impossible situation, use were instead of was.

  • 5
    That's true, but not the answer. We use were for hypotheticals in the present/future. For hypotheticals in the past we use had been. – Colin Fine Aug 7 '20 at 19:50

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.