Page 6 of 8 FirstFirst ... 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 LastLast
Results 51 to 60 of 79
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Academic
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan

    • Join Date: Jan 2009
    • Posts: 1,507
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #51

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    MrPedantic wrote:

    I would agree that it is probably easiest for learners to opt for the "were" form in standard conditional structures of the "if X were the case, Y would happen" kind, since it will never be "wrong"

    Precisely! Why teach a form that a sizeable proportion of the world's educated native-speaking population considers substandard, when there is a simple alternative on whose innate grammaticality all are agreed?

    On the other hand, the "was" subjunctive can be found in writers who are not generally considered poor stylists (recently I noticed instances in Berkeley and A.J. Ayer, for example).

    (I'll answer on the assumption that what you mean to say here is hypothetical 'was' - subjunctive 'was' would be a contradiction in terms!)

    Well, they may possibly write it in, let us be charitable and say, an unguarded moment, but would they rigorously defend their choice and stand by it if the matter were brought to their attention by a punctilious editor or perceptive reader? Somehow, I suspect not...

    Also, possibly, there is a distinction between the two forms (at least for some BrE speakers) which is not often discussed, but which can often be detected in e.g. radio interviews with public figures:

    1. If it wasn't for the fact that X is the case, Y would happen.
    2. If X were the case, Y might happen.

    In the #1 structure, Y is presented as remote from actuality; whereas in #2, Y is still possible. My impression is that some BrE speakers (probably unconsciously) do tend more towards the "were" form when entertaining an open hypothesis, and "was" for a closed possibility.


    This illusory distinction (which I accept that you are merely presenting as an extant viewpoint rather than actively defending) really amounts to little more than a convenient sophism to justify a widespread solecism.

    Either you present a premise relating to the present as counterfactual (in which case you employ a second conditional), or you accept it as possible (in which case you employ a first conditional). Thus

    [1] If he is here, we'll find him.

    implies the speaker's belief that he may be here, whereas

    [2] If he were here, we would already have found him.

    categorically implies the belief that he is not.

    Unlike some languages (Japanese, for example) where morphology permits genuine vagueness on this point, English - for better or for worse - requires a speaker to make up his/her mind one way or the other before attempting to form a conditional sentence. A counterfactual that may really be true is simply a non-concept!

  1. 5jj's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Retired English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Czech Republic

    • Join Date: Oct 2010
    • Posts: 28,167
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #52

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Mr Pedantic # 46: I would agree that it is probably easiest for learners to opt for the "were" form in standard conditional structures of the "if X were the case, Y would happen" kind, since it will never be "wrong".
    5jj: It will not be wrong in hypothetical utterances, but it would be wrong in others. *“If I were out of order, I apologise.” The argument about ‘easiest for learners’ could also apply to the ‘was form


    Philo 50: . Of course it is a past tense form (of the indicative mood).
    5jj: Not ‘of course’. Most writers refer to it as a past tense form, and it is certainly frequently used to denote past-time situations. However, other tenses are also used to refer to past-time situations, and the ‘past tense’ form can be used to refer to other times.

    Philo: Meanwhile - in the absence of any evidence to the contrary - I maintain my assertion that, for most educated AmE users (the majority of the world's native English-speaking populace), hypothetical 'was' is substandard, while it is beyond doubt that no educated speaker of any variety of English would ever reject hypothetical 'were' as ungrammatical!
    5jj: There are enough people speaking BrE, and enough wanting to learn it, for us not to have to follow AmE usage in this one instance. Or are you arguing that we should stop using BrE because the majority of English-speakers in the world use AmE?
    I don’t think anybody has claimed that hypothetical ‘were’ is ungrammatical. I have questioned the wisdom of teaching a subjunctive mood, which is rather different.

    Philo: There is, however, also the argument based on the common sense linguistic principle that potentially ambiguous constructions are naturally less acceptable than unambiguous ones.
    5jj: If you are suggesting that ‘if I was you’ is ambiguous, I’d be interested to know in what way it is ambiguous.


    There is no ambiguity in such cases such as: If I was a policeman, I would wear a policeman's uniform. However, I am a teacher, so I don’t wear any uniform and Sometimes, I would be a doctor, sometimes a fireman, and sometimes a policeman. If I was a doctor, I would wear a white coat. If I was a fireman, I would wear a fireman's uniform. If I was a policeman, I would wear a policeman's uniform. Context and co-text make the meaning clear.

  2. Frank Antonson's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Dec 2009
    • Posts: 1,151
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #53

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    I have been too lazy (and busy) to read this whole thread, but the word "decay" comes to mind.

    I think I first heard in the sense of "decay of gender" or "decay of inflections" or "decay of case" in Modern English as opposed to Old English.

    This may be a case of "decay of (the subjunctive) mood".

    In a way, I like the term because it suggests that even though the language may still function, there is something that has been lost.

    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Other
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • England

    • Join Date: Feb 2005
    • Posts: 2,585
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #54

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    Well, they may possibly write it in, let us be charitable and say, an unguarded moment, but would they rigorously defend their choice and stand by it if the matter were brought to their attention by a punctilious editor or perceptive reader? Somehow, I suspect not...
    I would take a different view. Since I know that I myself sometimes use the was-subjunctive, and sometimes the were-subjunctive, depending on the context and the intended meaning, I wouldn't have any grounds for assuming that other speakers had done the same only in error.

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    This illusory distinction (which I accept that you are merely presenting as an extant viewpoint rather than actively defending) really amounts to little more than a convenient sophism to justify a widespread solecism.
    Possibly the distinction is illusory, for some speakers; but how would you demonstrate that it is so for all?

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    Either you present a premise relating to the present as counterfactual (in which case you employ a second conditional), or you accept it as possible (in which case you employ a first conditional). Thus

    [1] If he is here, we'll find him.

    implies the speaker's belief that he may be here, whereas

    [2] If he were here, we would already have found him.

    categorically implies the belief that he is not.

    Unlike some languages (Japanese, for example) where morphology permits genuine vagueness on this point, English - for better or for worse - requires a speaker to make up his/her mind one way or the other before attempting to form a conditional sentence. A counterfactual that may really be true is simply a non-concept!
    Strictly speaking, your second example is not a 2nd conditional; and probably both the 1st and 2nd conditionals are more flexible than you suggest. Thus

    1a. If he's here, I'll eat my hat.

    does not imply belief that he's here; and

    2a. If he were the man we're looking for, he would have a tattoo on his right buttock.

    does not categorically imply the belief that he's not our man: to establish that, we would first need to debag him.

    But in any case, even if the point were valid, it would not preclude the use of "was" in counterfactual statements:

    3. If he was any bigger, we'd have to use a taser.

    All the best,

    MrP
    ·
    Not a professional ESL teacher.
    ·

  3. 5jj's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Retired English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Czech Republic

    • Join Date: Oct 2010
    • Posts: 28,167
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #55

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    This may be a case of "decay of (the subjunctive) mood".

    In a way, I like the term because it suggests that even though the language may still function, there is something that has been lost.
    I quite like the term, but I don't think philo would accept that it is decaying.

  4. Frank Antonson's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Dec 2009
    • Posts: 1,151
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #56

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Perhaps the matter of "decay" within the English language could be discussed in a separate thread. I have much to ask and tell about the matter.

  5. 5jj's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Retired English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • Czech Republic

    • Join Date: Oct 2010
    • Posts: 28,167
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #57

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    Perhaps the matter of "decay" within the English language could be discussed in a separate thread. I have much to ask and tell about the matter.
    I look forward to the appearance of the thread.
    I suspect the atmosphere might become warm at times.

  6. Frank Antonson's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Dec 2009
    • Posts: 1,151
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #58

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Okay,

    Here goes...

    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Academic
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan

    • Join Date: Jan 2009
    • Posts: 1,507
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #59

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    fivejedjon wrote:

    Or are you arguing that we should stop using BrE because the majority of English-speakers in the world use AmE?
    Unlike suggesting, for example, that 'sidewalk' is correct and 'pavement' incorrect, using counterfactual 'were' is not a case of blindly "following AmE usage": it is one of employing,
    in an appropriate syntactic context, a verb form that traditionally, in every known variety of standard English, has always been a hallmark of the careful user!

    I don’t think anybody has claimed that hypothetical ‘were’ is ungrammatical.
    Of course you have not, since it would be demonstrably false.

    I have questioned the wisdom of teaching a subjunctive mood, which is rather different.

    It remains, however, the only way to systematically account for the correctness of 'were' after first and third-person singular subjects in this sentence position...

    If you are suggesting that ‘if I was you’ is ambiguous, I’d be interested to know in what way it is ambiguous.
    It's very simple: if, of two constructions A and B, B (as demonstrated) requires context to disambiguate it while A does not, then A is logically the clearer/more precise of the two. Ergo, B is, relatively speaking, ambiguous.
    QED



    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Academic
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan

    • Join Date: Jan 2009
    • Posts: 1,507
    • Post Thanks / Like
    #60

    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I have been ...has been lost.
    But what has been lost? The subjunctive, in both its past and present tense-forms, is alive and kicking in both average AmE usage and careful BrE usage!

Page 6 of 8 FirstFirst ... 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. [Vocabulary] How do you pronounce "Cotton", "Button", "Britain", "Manhattan"...
    By Williamyh in forum Pronunciation and Phonetics
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 24-Dec-2009, 09:36
  2. "hundreds", "fives", "ones", "Tens", "20s"
    By IMPSX-UE in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: 07-Mar-2009, 19:54
  3. Replies: 2
    Last Post: 08-Sep-2008, 09:27
  4. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 22-Nov-2007, 12:26
  5. confusing words "expressed" or "express" and "named" or"names"
    By Dawood Usmani in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 26-Oct-2007, 20:33

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •