What's the rule(s) for I was vs I were?

This is a discussion thread · 28 replies
1 2 3 4
Guest:
Hello. I'm looking for a simple answer to which is correct: "I was" or "I were." I hear both in conversation but don't know if there is a hard-and-fast rule for useage, if it varies according to situation, or what.

My confusion lies in that I usually think of "were" belonging to plural nouns and "was" belonging to singular, especially "they were" and "we were"--obviously, you don't say "they was" or "we was" under any circumstance.

And also, one wouldn't say "I were going shopping when I were hit by a car."

I'm asking because MS Word's grammar checker sometimes insists I use "I were" when I think it should be "I was." In this particular instance, I'd typed "I wish I was God" and it insisted it should be "I wish I were God." (No, I don't have a God complex. But if I was-or I were-God, I'd make English less complicated.)

Thanks in advance for the help.
Don't you think you have enough power already?
Senior Member4,756
My advice is to look for subjunctive mood on the Internet.

"subjunctive after wish. Yet another traditional rule requires you to use were rather than was in a contrary-to-fact statement that follows the verb wish: I wish I were (not was) lighter on my feet. Many writers continue to insist on this rule, but the indicative was in such clauses can be found in the works of many well-known writers." (from The American Heritage® Book of English Usage)
Full Member106
Compare the following two cases:

(1) If he was from another planet ...
(2) If he were from another planet ...

Clause (1) says "He may or may not be from another planet, but let's consider the case in which he, in fact, is". Clause (2), on the other hand, says "He most certainly is NOT from another planet. Ha ha, that's impossible. Still, let's just imagine what would happen if that impossible circumstance were realised".

In other words, you say WERE to imply that the condition is impossible. As in "If I were you...".

Rommie
Regular Member606
Anonymous:
was or were
In the ordinary past tense of the verb to be, was is the first and third person singular: I was late and were is the second person singular and the plural: You were right. It is not acceptable in standard English to use were for the first and third person singular: I were late, and was for the second person singular and the plural: You was right. In the past subjunctive, however, the situation is more fluid. Historically the past subjunctive of be is were for all persons, singular and plural: I wish she were here; Suppose I were rich; If only they weren't so expensive. It is quite common, though, to use was instead of were for the first and third person singular: I wish she was here; Suppose I was rich. This is perfectly acceptable in colloquial English, but in formal writing it is better to stick to were. Remember that the fixed phrase as it were cannot be changed – never as it was.
Anonymous:
If you're referring to "If I was" vs "If I were", then they're interchangeable. Many people prefer "If I was" because it goes along with the present tense "I was" rather than adopting the plural.

Some celebrities have adopted "If I was", such as Jim Morisson in "Light My Fire".
Anonymous:
Hello you Guest-Person-you!

About the use of was vs. were with the subject I. Here is the scoop on that!

ABOUT CONDITIONALS!!! Fundamental Level study of conditionals list four conditionals (First, Second, Third and Zero). Fluency Level study of conditionals list three forms of conditionals (Factual, Predictive and Speculative) with subdivisions in each.

The Second Conditionals (Fundamental Level) falls into the subdivision of the Speculative Form (Speculative conditional sentences are used for three purposes: [1] to speculate about unlikely possibilities in the present or future; [2] to speculate about events that did not happen in the past; [3] to speculate about conditions that are contrary to fact).

In the UNLIKELY POSSIBILITY subdivision, in the IF CLAUSE, the past-tense form were is used with subjects that would normally take was: ex. Even if I were [not was] invited, I wouldn’t go to the picnic.

This is considered standard (as opposed to colloquial) English and should be applied to all writing. Verbally it is possible to use the was instead of were.

That´s it, in a nutshell!

Daniela (Email Removed)
Anonymous:
Hi, the rule here is not related to "I was" or "I were" but with "wish" structure, which always refers to a plural form of "Be" = "I wish I were there", "I wish you were here", "I wish she were here" and so forth.

Best wishes!
Anonymous:
Being from another planet (technically the moon), the above situation does not apply to me. However, during a conversation with an Earthling cat, I encountered an example of the subjunctive mood. Since from what I understand, an Earthling cat would never ever want to be a dog, the situation qualifies as a "ha, ha, that's impossible" situation. FYI, here is a record of my conversation:



I hope this has further clarified the debate. Since English is so difficult for Earthlings to master, pity the poor moon inhabitant!

Best wishes,

Zen
Show more
Live chat
Registered users can join here