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?

  • 4
    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
  • 5
    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
  • 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
  • I agree with BoldBen - this sounds like dialect in which in the 1920s is reduced to in t' 1920s and finally to in 1920s. – Greybeard Nov 7 '20 at 9:59

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.

  • 6
    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

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