27

In English we often add "as it were" to indicate that a phrase is not to be taken literally; for example:

He's flown from the nest, as it were.

... would indicate that a boy has left his parent's house, via the "flown from the nest" idiom. But, why does "as it were" clarify that this is an idiom?

8
  • Judging from J.R.'s answer it can be read as "as if [his parent's house] (it) was [a nest]".
    – bitmask
    Apr 9, 2012 at 10:33
  • @bitmask or indeed "as if the house were a nest."
    – phoog
    Apr 9, 2012 at 23:53
  • Idiom? More like a metaphore...
    – Anonymous
    Apr 10, 2012 at 6:27
  • @phoog: I known you shouldn't ask sub-questions in comments; But isn't the house here 3rd person singular? So I thought I'd to use "was" instead of "were".
    – bitmask
    Apr 10, 2012 at 12:23
  • @bitmask: I've already given you the answer - that it's the subjunctive mood.
    – Anonymous
    Apr 10, 2012 at 12:36

5 Answers 5

17

Interesting thought: that as it were might be an idiom, used to emphasize that something else in the sentence is also an idiom.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines as it were thusly:

as it were :
as if it were so; in a manner of speaking

Wordnik lists these synonyms:

  • so to speak
  • in a way
  • in a manner of speaking
23

It's an example of English subjunctive mood (one of the irrealis moods).

This particular example is a set phrase (relic from an older form of the language where it was much more common) where subjunctive needs to be employed.

1
  • 6
    +1 for the only answer to mention subjunctive mood
    – phoog
    Apr 9, 2012 at 23:54
9

It is used, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘as a parenthetic phrase . . . to indicate that a word or statement is perhaps not formally exact though practically right’. It’s very old, being first recorded around 1200.

2

"As it were..." indicates that the mood of the sentence or clause is subjunctive, viz. a counter-factual or improbable hypothetical is being provisionally taken as true in the sentence.

-5

It is a filler phrase that means nothing in modern English. It makes one look less than intelligent because it sounds like you are "trying" to sound smart - which makes one look ______.

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