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(snip)

'Were' is a subjunctive. Very few people use the subjunctive these days. Forget it if you wish.

Marius has been asking about a bucketload of expressions that are truly rare or obsolete, but the subjunctive is not ... example, the "were" indicates that "he" is not truly breaking into her solitude. It is imaginary or contrary to fact.

I agree that the subjunctive is not dead in US English, but it's becoming rarer. It's not clear to me that this is "contrary to fact" in the same sense as with most uses of the subjunctive. We know he became uncomfortable, and he did so in the same manner as he would have in another case. With the indicative and an "if" clause, we are not saying that the condition must be true, but that we are assuming it is true, even though it may be false.

If I say, "If I were breaking the solitude of hers, I would be uncomfortable," the assumption is that I'm not breaking the solitude. If I say, "If I was breaking her solitude, I'm sorry about it," the presumption that it's contrary to fact is not there, but I'm not necessarily admitting that I broke her solitude either. The reader is assuming that I did for the sake of the rest of the sentence to be true, and that it already happened.

The indicative strikes me as more natural than the subjunctive in the OP's statement, because he became uncomfortable as if the other clause were not contrary to fact. I'm sure some people would insist on the subjunctive here, but the indicative would not strike my ears as wrong here. It would not create ambiguity either, and seems to be the way most people are going.

"As if he were" is used much more than "as if he was," according to Google. But "was as if he was" is used more than "was as if he were." I suspect this would follow for similar constructions comparing a past event with another event. I tend to be more sensitive than most to people not using the subjunctive when I think they should, so I don't think my perception of prevailing AmE usage is off here. You can still recommend the subjunctive, but I don't think most people would be bothered the other way.
Both "as if the ship had turned" and "as if ... unreal events, aren't they? Why, then, the difference in treatment?

Well, usually it shows up with "to be". If the form of the verb had been 'turning," there would have ... the ship were turning and the author would quite likely have picked "were" to emphasize that it wasn't really happening.

Hm, ... Questions:-)
Thus, one should use "were" in both present and perfect time situations, in unreal situations after "as if", correct? Say in both:

I am feeling sick now, as if the ship were turning, even if I know it's stationary.
I was feeling sick yesterday, as if the ship were turning, even if I knew it was stationary.
Also, why not use instead of your
as if the ship were turning

"as if the ship had been turning"
(if you prefer a continuous version)?
Thanks.
Marius Hancu
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Well, usually it shows up with "to be". If the ... have picked "were" to emphasize that it wasn't really happening.

Hm, ... Questions:-) Thus, one should use "were" in both present and perfect time situations, in unreal situations after "as if", correct? Say in both: I am feeling sick now, as if the ship were turning, even if I know it's stationary.

That one's fine.
I was feeling sick yesterday, as if the ship were turning, even if I knew it was stationary.

That's fine by me, although maybe someone would dispute it. It also suggests the other option of "as if the ship had been turning" which I guess is the form you were advocating, although I've lost track. I would not be surprised to read "were" or "had been".
There's a slight difference in the tenses - "had been" emphasizing that the turning happened previously (and may have stopped, although then "had turned" would be better), and "were" matches the same time as mentioned in the sentence. That might matter for some verbs, but not much here.
Also, why not use instead of your

as if the ship were turning

"as if the ship had been turning" (if you prefer a continuous version)?

See above. I'm about at my limits of knowledge here. I can usually explain why I put "were" into sentences, but I don't know every possible other way of putting the sentence, especially for other eras and locations.

Best Donna Richoux
An American living in the Netherlands
Hm, ... Questions:-) Thus, one should use "were" in both ... the ship were turning, even if I know it's stationary.

That one's fine.

No it isn't; 'even though', not 'even if'.
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That one's fine.

No it isn't; 'even though', not 'even if'.

Right, thanks.
Marius Hancu
(snip)

'Were' is a subjunctive. Very few people use the subjunctive these days. Forget it if you wish.

Marius has been asking about a bucketload of expressions that are truly rare or obsolete, but the subjunctive is not one of them. From discussion here, I'd say it's much more common in the US than in the UK+.

Yes, Donna, it is more common in the U.S. But, even though Marius (to judge from his email address) is perched just above the U.S., probably in Quebec, he has no need to learn its moribund peculiarities. If he were/if he was, nobody cares. It would make no difference even if he were in the U.S. My advice to him remains right on target.
Google shows one million seven hundred thousand hits for "if he were". That is not nothing.

Of course it isn't. Is there a point there?
In the Woolf example, the "were" indicates that "he" is not truly breaking into her solitude. It is imaginary or contrary to fact. Marius, the "Guide to Grammar and Writing" site is a pretty reliable basic reference to current US standards. Check "Subjunctive": http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index2.htm

Best,
aokay
Use your name (or almost anything else) @ treveneth.com for email. This will work unless you or somebody else who has done the same thing has put me on spammers' lists. Ain't redirection marvellous? (g)
There's a slight difference in the tenses - "had been" emphasizing that the turning happened previously (and may have stopped, although then "had turned" would be better), and "were" matches the same time as mentioned in the sentence.

Thanks. I have the same feeling, even though I miss a formal reference in a prescriptive grammar wrt it.
Marius Hancu
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Dear Marius,
You mention a "Swan"; do you have Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage"? If so, check out section 74. He notes that in unreal comparisons "were" can be used instead of "was" and, in fact, that "was" is commoner in informal styles. On the other hand, Merriam-Webster's "Dictionary of English Usage" claims that "Evidence in our files shows both subjunctive and indicative in frequent respectable use. There seems to be little difference in formality."

"In the great majority of as if clauses, when the choice of verb is between were or was , the subjunctive form were is preferable. It indicates that something is hypothetical, uncertain, or not factually true. But when uncertainty or hypothesis is less obviously present or not present at all, the indicative form was should be used."
==
Regards,
VI
http://kenm.mydeardiary.com /
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