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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Clauses Containing If, Wish, and As If

Let's kick off this week's newsletter with a quick, one-question quiz! 

Which sentence is correct?

A)  If I was taller, I would become a basketball star.
B)  If I were taller, I would become a basketball star.

Believe it or not, the correct answer is B: If I were taller, I would become a basketball star.  

If you chose answer A, don't feel bad. The rules for if clauses are not well known, but I'm here to give you the scoop.

According to The Gregg Reference Manual, the word were (not was) should be used when an if clause states a condition that is highly improbable, doubtful, or contrary to fact.¹

Examples:

●   If I were you, I wouldn't buy that house.
●   If I were a doctor or a lawyer, I would be making far more money.

When an if clause states a condition that is possible or likely, no special treatment is required.

Examples:

●   If he was at the game, I must have missed him.
●   If she was available, she would have called.

The word were should also be used in clauses that contain the words wish and as if.

Examples:

●   I wish I were going with you on the trip.
●   He acts as if he were the only one in the room.

All of this ties back to a grammatical term known as the subjunctive mood, which applies to a number of other situations as well. If you're interested in reading more about this topic, be sure to check out the following resources:

●   EnglishClub.com - Subjunctive

●  
Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch - Subjunctives  (scroll down)

●   English Plus - The Subjunctive Mood

 

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Source:


1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th ed.
        (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005), p. 278-279.