If I Were You…

“If I were you, I would [start exercising].”

How often have you heard someone say that statement?  Our teachers have taught us that singular subjects are followed by singular verbs. Check out my post on Subject-verb Agreement.

Back to the above statement. Why do we use the verb “were” instead of “was“? The answer is, it has something to do with “mood” of the verbs used. There are three types of mood:

  • indicative: “You have to come.”
  • imperative: “Come here!”
  • subjunctive: “If I were taller, I would be able to reach it.”

(a) Present subjunctive

In the present subjunctive, use “were” for people.

Example:

  • If I were rich, I would be a philanthropist.

→ I am not rich (this is a factual statement).

(b) Past subjunctive

In the past subjunctive mood, use “had” in all cases.

Examples:

  • If the police had arrived sooner, the robber wouldn’t have escaped.

→ The police arrived late (this is a factual statement).

Remember this:
Subjunctive mood is the use of “mood” verbs to express conditions, hypotheses, and wishes.

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Posted on November 16, 2009, in Grammar and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. If I were smarter, … {I would be able to complete that sentence!} 😛

  2. Um, you are kind of wrong above. The present subjunctive of the “to be” verb is “BE” for all situations:

    If truth be told, I wasn’t the smartest person there.
    It is important that they be at the wedding.

    The past subjunctive is “WERE” for all persons:

    I wish I were there.
    If the truth were told, I would not be the smartest person there.

    The past perfect subjunctive starts with “had” and takes the past participle; for “to be” it is “been”:

    I wish I had been there to see that.
    If the truth had been told, I would not have been the smartest person there.

    There is a present perfect subjunctive which is “HAVE” for all persons plus the past participle:

    I would rather he have been in the wedding.
    It’s crucial that she have been in this situation before.

    There you go. Now it is correct.

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