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Hi everyone!!

I've got a problem. My grammar book would say "They are looking at me as if I were mad". I know I could use like instead of as if in informal situations, and I could also use was instead of were (informal again), but I'm confused about present tense usage where you should use the subjunctive (or past tense with that meaning). More or less, my grammar says that in general you should use the present tense or the present perfect tense: "You look as if you haven't slept." But it also says that when you use the past tense, the sentence you are writing expresses an unreal fact: "Why do you talk about him as if he were an old man?" (You know he isn't an old man). So, here's what I think:

1. "It smells as if someone has been smoking in here." ( I think maybe someone has been smoking)

2. "Do you hear that music? It sounds as if they are having a party." ( I think maybe there is a party near here)

3. "It smells as if someone had been smoking in here." ( I think or I'm sure nobody has smoked, but it seems someone has)

4. "She talks as if she knew evrything." ( She doesn't know everything )

5. "They are looking at me as if I were mad" (So I think I'm not mad)

6. "They are looking at me as if I am mad" (??? Am I saying there is a possibility I am mad? Here's my problem)

I would like an opinion also from some native speakers, because they surely know why these expressions are non-standard, often used, correct.........but any other opinion will be well accepted!Emotion: smile

Thanks Emotion: smile
Comments  
I am not a grammar expert, but for additional rules regarding the subjucntive verb usage, you can go to http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/061.html

1. "It smells as if someone has been smoking in here." ( I think maybe someone has been smoking)
Correct

2. "Do you hear that music? It sounds as if they are having a party." ( I think maybe there is a party near here)
Correct

3. "It smells as if someone had been smoking in here." ( I think or I'm sure nobody has smoked, but it seems someone has)
The only difference between this one and #1 is 'has been' vs 'had been'. In #1, perhaps there is lingering smell of cigarettes which makes you say that someone has been smoking here. In #3, perhaps the smoking occured a while ago, and there no longer is the smell. But you see some cigarettes butts laying around which make you suspect that someone had smoked there, but some time ago.

4. "She talks as if she knew evrything." ( She doesn't know everything )
It means she is acting and talking like she knows everything, but in reality she doesn't. The emphasis here is on the fact that she acts like she knows everything. And it is strongly implied that she actually doesn't.

5. "They are looking at me as if I were mad" (So I think I'm not mad)
Correct. You are not mad. But something you did or said made them bring about a facial expression that says "are you out of your mind? Are you crazy?"

6. "They are looking at me as if I am mad" (??? Am I saying there is a possibility I am mad? Here's my problem)
I think this falls in the past subjunctive category. It is more acceptable to use the format as shown in the #5 sentecne. The meaning is exactly the same in both sentences.
Mary Ansell has a chapter on the subjunctive mood at http://www.fortunecity.com/bally/durrus/153/gramch09.html.

One of the complications in using the subjunctive is the fact that, besides hypothetical condition clauses, which require the subjunctive, there are factual condition clauses that do not. The following is a post I made on another forum:
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There are two kinds of condition clauses: factual ones in which the condition is a factual statement, and hypothetical ones in which the condition is either known to be false or is being speculated about in an experimental sort of way. In factual condition clauses, normal verb tenses and moods are used. In hypothetical condition clauses, the subjunctive mood is used, followed, sometimes, by auxiliary verbs, like would or could, in the main clause.

Examples

Factual: If the bridge collapses, cars will fall into the river.
Factual: If the bridge collapsed last week, the town has been isolated since then.
Hypothetical: If the bridge were to collapse [or: Were the bridge to collapse], cars would fall into the river.
Hypothetical: If the bridge had collapsed last week [or: Had the bridge collapsed last week], cars would have fallen into the river.

Factual: If it looks like a horse, and walks like a horse, and talks like a horse, it's a horse.
Factual: If it looked like a horse, it probably was a horse.
Hypothetical: If I were a horse [or: Were I a horse], I could run faster.
Hypothetical: If I had been a horse [or: Had I been a horse], I could have won the Kentucky Derby.

Factual: If she is your sister, your DNA will match.
Hypothetical: Were she [or: If she were] your sister, your DNA would match.
Hypothetical: If she had been your sister [or: Had she been your sister], your DNA would have matched.

Factual: You are advised to call the .... Centre ...... for assistance if you encounter the noise nuisance again.
Hypothetical: If the noise were to recur, we were to call the Centre.
Hypothetical: Had the noise recurred, we would have called the Centre.
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In Understanding Grammar, Paul Roberts says there are only two tenses in the subjunctive: present and past.

Present Subjunctive: A verb form used chiefly for hypothetical statements and in noun clauses after verbs of ordering, asking, urging, etc. In form the present subjunctive is identical with the infinitive without to: be , do, have seem, walk, etc. Thus, though the present subjective of the verb be is markedly different from the indicative (I be, you be, he be, etc., against indicative I am, you are, he is), in other verbs the moods differ only in the third person singular (he walk, she sing, it seem, etc. against indicative he walks, she sings, it seems).
We can call on Beesley, if need be.
If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
God forbid that he should believe such a thing.
It's important that you be ready by twelve.
Suffice it to say the Edith is Mulroy's sister.
I ask only that he come and talk it over.
We urged that he be permitted to smoke.

Past Subjunctive: A verb form used chiefly for unreal or hypothetical statements. Only two distinctive past subjunctive forms remain in Modern English: I were and he (she, it) were, against the indicative I was and he was. The term past subjunctive is also applied, however, to other verbs used for unreal statements; such verbs are identical in form with the past tense of the indicative, but they customarily point to present rather than past time.

If I were you, I would watch my language.
I'd say the same if she were my own sister.
What would you do if you were given complete charge?
If I had a million dollars, I'd give it all to you.
I wish he were here now.
Henry looked at her as if she were insane.
If he knew, he couldn't help us.
If Brempkin had been there, we might have won.

The past subjunctive occurs most often in subordinate clauses introduced by if, as if, though, or as though.
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Now to answer your questions.

1. "It smells as if someone has been smoking in here." ( I think maybe someone has been smoking)
I agree. A factual statement: as if someone has been smoking in here.

2. "Do you hear that music? It sounds as if they are having a party." ( I think maybe there is a party near here)
Another factual statement: as if they are having a party.
3. "It smells as if someone had been smoking in here." ( I think or I'm sure nobody has smoked, but it seems someone has)
Factual: It smells as if someone has been smoking in here.
Reworded hypothetical: If someone were to smoke in here, it would smell this way.


4. "She talks as if she knew evrything." ( She doesn't know everything )
I don't think this works as a hypothetical in the present tense. It is just factual: She talks as if she knows everything. I think it would have to be reworded to form a hypothetical: If she were omniscient, she would talk that way.
In the past tense, it could be counter-factual/hypothetical: She talked as if she knew everything.


5. "They are looking at me as if I were mad" (So I think I'm not mad)
As a counter-factual statement.
In the present tense: They are looking at me as if I be mad.
In the past tense: They looked at me as if I were mad.


6. "They are looking at me as if I am mad" (??? Am I saying there is a possibility I am mad? Here's my problem)
As a factual statement.
Present: They are looking at me as if I am mad. (I'm not.)
Past: They were looking at me as if I was mad. (I was not.) (See the addendeum.)

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Addendum
The use of the subjunctive were versus the indicative was is uncertain for (at least) two reasons:

1. After expressions of a wish and in contrary to fact and hypothetical statements, " ... was began to compete with were in these contexts sometime around the end of the 16th century." ---Webster's Dictionary of English Usage In some cases, was is seen as being more emphatic: "Would to the Lord there was not." But was is also used in unemphatic expressions: "I wish I was six feet tall and I wouldn't mind if I was handsome." ---And More by Andy Rooney. "Was is likewise common in unemphatic contexts after if, as if, and as though:

The situation in the Middle East ... might be very different if there was an international left with a strong base. ---Noam Chomsky, Columbia Forum, Winter, 1969
"One of the curiosities of the was-were competition is the tendency of many writers to use both, often very close together, even in the same sentence....

... and all staring gravely, as if it were a funeral, at me as if I was the coffin ---Henry Adams, letter, 15 May 1859
I wish I was a dog and Ronald Reagan were a Jelly Bean tree. ---Reinhold Aman, Maledicta, 1982
But the subjunctive continues in speech and, especially, in writing.

2. The degree to which a statement is hypothetical, or even if it is hypothetical, is often uncertain. Your sentences numbers 5 and 6 are exquisitely in between. To my ear, was sounds as natural as were.

Since either is apt to be used, my advice is to determine the intention from the context when reading. When writing, I would stay with the subjunctive in hypothetical condition clauses.

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Thank you very much for your help! I searched the net for some examples ( and I've found a lot of "as if I'm...","like you are...","as if I'm going to..."), then here's what I understood:

1. Jenny talks as if she knows everything = Jenny talks like a person who knows everything ( but you aren't saying whether Jenny really knows everything or not)

2. Jenny talks as if she knew everything = Jenny talks like a person who knows everything, but she doesn't really know everything

3. She is looking at me like I am mad = She is looking at me in the way she would look at a mad man ( but you aren't saying whether you are mad or not)

4. She is looking at me like I were mad = She is looking at me in the way she would look at a mad man, but I'm not really mad

So, when you use the unreality past, you are adding an extra information ( like at number 2 and 4 ). Unreality past isn't necessary, but in sentence like "She is looking at me as if I'm mad" or "I sing like I'm Jennifer Lopez", you would be more precise by using the unreality past. I also think sentences like "I sing as if I were Jennifer Lopez" are reqired in formal context, whereas "I'm singing like I'm J.Lo." would be acceptabe only in informal speech.

Could you tell me what you think? Am I wrong about the meaning?

Thanks in advance. ( ah... by the way, keep in mind I'm not Jennifer Lopez...Emotion: big smileEmotion: wink)
1. Jenny talks as if she knows everything = Jenny talks like a person who knows everything ( but you aren't saying whether Jenny really knows everything or not) I agree.
2. Jenny talks as if she knew everything = Jenny talks like a person who knows everything, but she doesn't really know everything
There is a (potential) confusion of tenses here: Jenny talks now as if she knew everything in the past. To make a less ambiguous counter-factual clause and utilize the subjunctive: If she knew everything, she would talk this way.

3. She is looking at me like I am mad = She is looking at me in the way she would look at a mad man ( but you aren't saying whether you are mad or not) I agree.

4. She is looking at me like I were mad = She is looking at me in the way she would look at a mad man, but I'm not really mad
Sometimes like does not work well as a conjunction.
Usage Note: Writers since Chaucer's time have used like as a conjunction, but 19th-century and 20th-century critics have been so vehement in their condemnations of this usage that a writer who uses the construction in formal style risks being accused of illiteracy or worse. Prudence requires The dogs howled as (not like) we expected them to. Like is more acceptably used as a conjunction in informal style with verbs such as feel, look, seem, sound, and taste, as in It looks like we are in for a rough winter. But here too as if is to be preferred in formal writing. There can be no objection to the use of like as a conjunction when the following verb is not expressed, as in He took to politics like a duck to water. ---dictionary.com
I think here as if sounds more natural: She is looking at me as if I were mad.


So, when you use the unreality past, you are adding an extra information ( like at number 2 and 4 ). Unreality past isn't necessary, but in sentence like "She is looking at me as if I'm mad" or "I sing like I'm Jennifer Lopez", you would be more precise by using the unreality past. I also think sentences like "I sing as if I were Jennifer Lopez" are reqired in formal context, whereas "I'm singing like I'm J.Lo." would be acceptabe only in informal speech.

I think talking about an unreality past is just confusing. There is a subjunctive mood, and the simple past subjunctive indicates a counter-factual or hypothetical condition.

In some cases, the subjunctive is expected in any (formal or informal) setting: if I were you and I wish I were you.

I think clauses introduced by if often more clearly call for the subjunctive than those introduced by as if.
If I were a horse, I could run much faster.
I ran so fast, it's as if I was/were a horse.
You're welcome, Ms Lopez.
Thanks a lot rvw for that long post!

Just a thing: "She talks as if she knew everything" (and other examples like that) comes from "English Grammar in Use, Cambridge University Press". ( And Danyoo from USA said It's right)

Anyway, what is important is I understood I can also say "She talks as if she knows everything".

Thanks again guys. Bye! Emotion: smile
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You, Danyoo, and English Grammar in Use are right. It's just that the subjunctive form is identical to the indicative in many cases. English is often ambiguous.