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?

  • 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


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

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.

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

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.


"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.


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 ______.

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