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Dear native English speakers,

(a) To hear him speak English, you would think he were an American.
Would the sentence above be used ?

How about these?
(b) If you heard him speak English, you would think he were an American.
(c) If you had heard him speak English, you would think he were an American.
(d) If you were to hear him speak English, you would think he were an American.

Hirashin
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Anonymous(a) To hear him speak English, you would think he were an American.Would the sentence above be used ?
That is interesting.

Although the hypothetical conditional idea makes it seem that 'were' is appropriate, I think it's not. Here the original thought (albeit hypothetical) is "He is an American". When this is reported, it is backshifted to he was an American. The verb in the reported thought cannot be subjunctive, in my opinion.
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(a) To hear him speak English, you would think he is an American.

In every subsequent sentence, I would use "is."

I would not back-shift because a person's birthplace is something that cannot change.

The subjunctive is used in the IF-clause for a hypothetical (but impossible) statement:
If he were an American, he would not be able to speak with such a native cockney accent.
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Comments  
AlpheccaStarsI would not back-shift because a person's birthplace is something that cannot change.
A person's birthplace is something that cannot Change, but backshifting is possible:

Peter:"Are you American?"
Peter asked me if I was/am American.
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AnonymousTo hear him speak English ...
For me, all of your example sentences are "hypercorrect" with "were". If I were saying those sentences, I'd use "was".

CJ

All of the sentences are correct, and "were" is fine because this is a hypothetical situation. In fact, he is NOT an American, nor have you heard him speak English. The point is that his accent is so perfect that he would fool you into believing that he is American. Of course, in modern American English, many people have switched to using "was" in all such situations, so that would also be fine.

The more interesting question is: Why does the infinitive structure (To hear him speak) work in this sentence, and certain others, but not in every conditional case?

To see him eat, you would think he was starving. (OK) = If you saw him eat, you would think ...

To know he was at home, you would be surprised. (Not OK)

If you knew he was at home, you would be surprised. (OK)

anonymousAll of the sentences are correct, and ...

Maybe you don't realize it, but you are answering a question that was asked and answered many years ago.

Why not answer questions that are more recent? That way there's a better chance that the person who asked the question is still participating on our forum and can benefit from your answer.

CJ

anonymous"were" is fine because this is a hypothetical situation

Actually, 'was' is probably the only choice that anyone ever really makes in this construction (you would think), so if you do know of an example with 'were', we would all like to see it. Maybe you can find even more than one.

anonymousThe more interesting question is:

In addition to answering the question, you've appended another question of your own, and it's a very interesting question. I think it would be worth it to ask that question as the beginning of a brand new thread. It's much less likely to be seen attached to this old thread.

CJ

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