Rules for using "were" rather than "was"

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C. Sowash:
I know it is correct to say "If I were you" rather than "if I was you". But it is correct to say "If our budget was larger...," "If Eisenhower was president..."
So what are the rules for using "were" and "was" in this type of situation?
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Robert Lieblich:
[nq:1]I know it is correct to say "If I were you" rather than "if I was you". But it is ... larger...," "If Eisenhower was president..." So what are the rules for using "were" and "was" in this type of situation?[/nq]
Can the hypothesized fact become true? If so, use "was." Otherwise, use "were." To parallel "was," you may need "had been" rather than "were," because "were," despite being the form of the passive indicative, is used for present circumstances.
Examples:
- If I was late in arriving last night, I wam unaware of it, because I didn't know the deadline and I still don't. (It's possible I was late, so I use "was.")
- If I had been late, I would have apologized, but I arrived on time. (I can't have been late, so I use "had been.")

- If I were the sort of person who sometimes arrives late, I would apologize for doing so. (I am not that sort of person. In this case, I suppose you could argue that I'm lying, but my use of "were" is intended to convey that I am telling the truth.)
- If I were president-elect, I'd demand an immediate recount. (Of course, I'm not president-elect.)
- If I was asked to name my favorite movie, I'd respond "Casablanca." (Obviously it's possible that someone would ask what my favorite movie is.)
Things can get jumbled at the margin, and this use of "were" is less common in the UK than i the US, but that's the general idea.

Bob Lieblich
"Were"wolf
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pritsy:
[nq:1]I know it is correct to say "If I were you" rather than "if I was you". But it is ... larger...," "If Eisenhower was president..." So what are the rules for using "were" and "was" in this type of situation?[/nq]
I use the subjunctive "were" in a phrase that describes a situation that I know or presume to be contrary to fact.

"If our budget were larger, we would redecorate"
(But the budget is not larger.)
"If Eisenhower were president, we would not be in Iraq." (But Eisenhower is not president now.)
However if I do not have such knowledge or presumption: I would not use the subjunctive.
"If our budget was sufficient, we should have redecorated." (The budget may or may not have been sufficient. I don't know.)

"If Eisenhower was president when she was born, she is older than she looks."
(Eisenhower being president at that time is not contrary to fact.)
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Anonymous:
i totally agree with robert and pritsy..
its all depend on the situation..
if something not yet happen then we can use was instead of were..

meaning like the example that is given by pritsy : "If our budget were larger, we would redecorate"
(But the budget is not larger.)
"If Eisenhower were president, we would not be in Iraq." (But Eisenhower is not president now.)
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Ian Jackson:
(Email Removed), "(Email Removed)" (Email Removed) writes
[nq:1]i totally agree with robert and pritsy.. its all depend on the situation.. if something not yet happen then we ... not larger.) "If Eisenhower were president, we would not be in Iraq." (But Eisenhower is not president now.) xoxo, aineecumi[/nq]
However, if in doubt, it's probably safer to use 'was'. Even if incorrect, it still sounds OK!

Ian
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C. Sowash:
[nq:1]Can the hypothesized fact become true? If so, use "was." Otherwise, use "were."[/nq]
OK. So you would say "If the sum of 2+2 were 5 then many textbooks would have to be revised."
How about "If California was/were a country rather than a state, then its budget..."? The hypothesized fact could come true, but it's highly unlikely.

Is there a logical explanation for the was/were rule?
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Robert Lieblich:
[nq:2]Can the hypothesized fact become true? If so, use "was." Otherwise, use "were."[/nq]
[nq:1]OK. So you would say "If the sum of 2+2 were 5 then many textbooks would have to be revised." How about "If California was/were a country rather than a state, then its budget..."? The hypothesized fact could come true, but it's highly unlikely.[/nq]
Fair comment. I sacrificed precision to brevity. There's no simple way of reconciling time frames, because it depends on what you're talking about. Usually we consider mainly the present, with inferences as to what will occur in the future.
[nq:1]Is there a logical explanation for the was/were rule?[/nq]
There is a historical explanation people found the differentiation useful and took it up. Now that it exists, it has its own internal logic. But you'll make little progress trying to determine why a rule of grammar is as it is.
I think I'm in deeper water than I thought at first.

Bob Lieblich
Paddling furiously
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Ian Jackson:
[nq:2]Can the hypothesized fact become true? If so, use "was." Otherwise, use "were."[/nq]
[nq:1]OK. So you would say "If the sum of 2+2 were 5 then many textbooks would have to be revised."[/nq]
It may be correct, but somehow sounds odd.
[nq:1]How about "If California was/were a country rather than a state, then its budget..."? The hypothesized fact could come true, but it's highly unlikely.[/nq]
Again, "were" sounds odd, but is correct.
However, "If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady" does sound right!
[nq:1]Is there a logical explanation for the was/were rule?[/nq]
As previously discussed, "were" is subjunctive (not past) tense. As I understand it, this is a sentence which is joined onto another, and usually expresses an element of doubt or uncertainty (as above). In some circumstances, you could add "to be" after "were" (ie "were to be), or replace it with "should be" (not meaning "ought to be", but instead indicating something which may happen in the future).
Ian
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Andrew Heenan:
[nq:1]As previously discussed, "were" is subjunctive (not past) tense. As I understand it, this is a sentence which is joined ... replace it with "should be" (not meaning "ought to be", but instead indicating something which may happen in the future).[/nq]
Yes, but "conditional" rather than 'an element of doubt or uncertainty'
Andrew
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