Hello:
Any clear rules on using "were" in
"he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers"
instead of "had been breaking", i.e.
"he became uncomfortable, as if he had been breaking into that solitude of hers" in the following paragraph?


Then, he wanted to tell her that when he was walking on the terrace just now here he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude, that aloofness, that remoteness of hers ...

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf (part1)
http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91t/part1.html

Swan tells me:

"if - unreal past situations":
To talk about past situations that did not happen, we use a past perfect tense ("had + past participle") in the "if"-clause, and "would have + past participle" in the other part of the sentence.

If you had asked me, I would have told you.
(NOT If you would have asked me ...)
(NOT if you asked me ...)
(NOT ... I had told you).

"if - unrealized present and future possibilities":

The same structure can sometimes be used (esp in BrE) to talk about present and future situations which are no longer possible because of the way things have turned out.
If my mother had been alive, she would have been 80 next year. (OR If my mother were alive, she would be ...)
(see the OR here. M. Hancu)

but I am not sure what if any of the above applies to Woolf's para.

Of course, in present time
"here he becomes uncomfortable as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers"
seems natural to me.
The situation is more complicated in this case, as she's really transforming a continuous action "he was breaking" into an unreal continous action "as if he were breaking", in past time.

Thus "as if he had been breaking" (as seemingly indicated by Swan) seems to me to transfer the action of breaking to a time previous to "he became uncomfortable", which is not what one would want here, where simultaneity is clear.
Anyone having a (preferably recent) prescriptive grammar or reference (Web reference preferred, but ...) dealing with this situation? Couldn't find anything in Quirk, but perhaps I was looking in the wrong places.
Thank you.
Happy Holidays,
Marius Hancu
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Hello: Any clear rules on using "were" in "he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude of ... Couldn't find anything in Quirk, but perhaps I was looking in the wrong places. Thank you. Happy Holidays, Marius Hancu

'Were' is a subjunctive. Very few people use the subjunctive these days. Forget it if you wish. If you have access to a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage, you'll find a decent article on it. Most people would use 'was' in the text. Write again if you don't see the reason for uisng it.
BTW, 'if you would have' is a very common substitute for 'if you had' in American spoken English and it's creeping into written too. It offends my ears (I am an old Canadian fogy who hears it all the time on American TV) but I accept that it's the way people talk.
aokay
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Any clear rules on using "were" in "he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers" instead of "had been breaking",

(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+.
Google shows one million seven hundred thousand hits for "if he were". That is not nothing.
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 - Donna Richoux
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In the Woolf example, the "were" indicates that "he" is not truly breaking into her solitude. It is imaginary or contrary to fact.

Donna, thank you very much indeed for all your help:-))

I'm aware this is a subjunctive and that this shows the situation is unreal. I am very familiar with "were" for present time .

However, this is a past time situation and this is where my problem starts with Woolf's para:


Then, he wanted to tell her that when he was walking on the terrace just now here he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude, that aloofness, that remoteness of hers ...

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

I know the site. I also know that the good professor is unfortunately sick these days ..
http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/forms/grammar request.htm
I checked at the site the Conditional in particular, and it's a very good discussion, but ...

http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conditional.htm

For past unreal events things that didn't happen, but we can imagine we put the verb in the condition clause a further step back into the past perfect:
* If the Pacers had won, Aunt Glad would have been rich.
This is not what Woolf is using, I mean "... if ... HAD ...". Now, she was British and I am not sure what the grammar prescribed in those times or even today. In my original posting, I showed what Swan is saying but I have a difficulty in aligning that with Woolf.

Best,
Marius Hancu
BTW, 'if you would have' is a very common substitute for 'if you had' in American spoken English and it's ... Canadian fogy who hears it all the time on American TV) but I accept that it's the way people talk.

Well, I know, but I'm glad this panel rejects this usage in writing:

The American Heritage® Book of English Usage.
http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/061.html
would have for had.
In spoken English, there is a growing tendency to use "would have" in place of the subjunctive "had" in contrary-to-fact clauses, such as "If she would have (instead of if she had) only listened to me, this would never have happened." But this usage is still widely considered an error in writing. Only 14 percent of the Usage Panel accepts it in the previously cited sentence, and a similar amount—but 16 percent—accepts it in the sentence "I wish you would have told me about this sooner."
Thanks.
Marius Hancu
==

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

I know the site. I also know that the good professor is unfortunately sick these days .. http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/forms/grammar request.htm

I didn't know that. I actually wrote to him about some point recently and he answered, so he's in at least good enough shape for that.
I checked at the site the Conditional in particular, and it's a very good discussion, but ... http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conditional.htm For ... further step back into the past perfect: * If the Pacers had won, Aunt Glad would have been rich.

That whole page is about conditionals. Even though your sentence had an "if" in it, it isn't a conditional. I don't know what you call an "as if" sentence. It relates to "like" and similes. "Comparative," maybe?

The original example you gave us was:
"he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers..."
In the "Subjunctive" section I mentioned, Darling lists as an example:

He acted as if he were guilty.
That's what you're got there.
This is not what Woolf is using, I mean "... if ... HAD ...". Now, she was British and ... In my original posting, I showed what Swan is saying but I have a difficulty in aligning that with Woolf.

An "if-then" sentence is not very much like an "as if" sentence. I mean, these have little to do with each other:
If she knew a secret, then she would have smiled. (She always does.) She smiled as if she knew a secret. (She smiled in a mysterious manner.)
If I really was invited, I'm happy to hear it. (Although I wonder why I didn't know until now.)
I was as happy as if I had really been invited. (I wasn't invited, but I was very happy; maybe I was crashing the party.)

Best Donna Richoux
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http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conditional.htm

That whole page is about conditionals. Even though your sentence had an "if" in it, it isn't a conditional.

Certainly it isn't.
The reason I went there it is that the Darling's Subjunctive page http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/verbs.htm#mood
directs one to the Conditionals page and links to it: "A new section on the uses of the Conditional should help you understand the subjunctive."
thus I assumed that in the grammarians' minds there might be some association.
The original example you gave us was: "he became uncomfortable, as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers..." In the "Subjunctive" section I mentioned, Darling lists as an example: He acted as if he were guilty. That's what you're got there.

Sorry to have missed your example above. Indeed, it fits my original example.
However:-), still in Woolf, I find this other "as if" example:


Then when she turned to William Bankes, smiling, it was as if the ship had turned and the sun had struck its sails again ...

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf (part1)
http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91t/part1.html

Her usage here is more consistent with what Darling mentions in the Conditionals (sorry to come back to them!) for past unreal events:
http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conditional.htm For past unreal events things that didn't happen, but we can imagine we put the verb in the condition clause a further step back into the past perfect:
* If the Pacers had won, Aunt Glad would have been rich.
Both "as if the ship had turned" and "as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers" are past unreal events, aren't they?

Why, then, the difference in treatment?
Thanks again,
Marius Hancu
BTW, 'if you would have' is a very common substitute ... TV) but I accept that it's the way people talk.

Well, I know, but I'm glad this panel rejects this usage in writing: The American Heritage® Book of English ... a similar amount—but 16 percent—accepts it in the sentence "I wish you would have told me about this sooner."

If a British panel had been consulted, its members might have been baffled, since these "If I would have ..." constructions don't exist in BrE as far as I know, at any level of education or in any dialect. Any exceptions would almost certainly be in imitation of AmE, probably heard in a song. Is the AmE construction dateable? Was it perhaps borrowed from some German or perhaps Yiddish influence?
Alan Jones
Both "as if the ship had turned" and "as if he were breaking into that solitude of hers" are past 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 been this choice:
as if the ship was turning
as if the ship were turning
and the author would quite likely have picked "were" to emphasize that it wasn't really happening.
It can show up in other verbs, but "had" is the same for both "he had" and "they had" so you wouldn't see it there. Where might you see it? All the verbs I can think of use the same form for third person singular and plural: he gave/they gave; he went/they went; he walked/they walked... No, I think you're really only going to notice this with was/were.

Best Donna Richoux
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