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Thread: was or were?

  1. #1
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    Default was or were?

    I know that the correct is.

    if it were true...


    but when can you say if it was...

    Never?


    qim

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default

    You can use either form. 'Were' is more formal and preferred by many grammarians, but 'was' is perfectly acceptable.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: was or were?

    Quote Originally Posted by qim
    I know that the correct is.

    if it were true...


    but when can you say if it was...

    Never?


    qim
    In American English, it is usually incorrect to use "if it was true" in a conditional sentence that assumes that the item was not true -- usually followed by a clause with 'would" in it. However, if the second clause contains an indicative verb, "was" may be perfectly correct.

    If the allegation was true, then the conviction was justified.
    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.

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    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.
    This one puzzles me.
    I would have said either:
    "If the allegation had been true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses."
    OR
    "If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have to bribe witnesses."
    What am I missing?

    FRC

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    Default

    We know the allegation isn't true: had been ... would have had
    If the allegation had been true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.

    We don't know if the allegation is true: were ... would have
    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have to bribe witnesses.

    Consider these,

    If X were true, she would go to jail.
    => We don't know if X is true.

    If X had been true, she would have gone to jail.
    => We know that X is not true.

    :D

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    Default Re: was or were?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeNewYork
    Quote Originally Posted by qim
    I know that the correct is.

    if it were true...


    but when can you say if it was...

    Never?


    qim
    In American English, it is usually incorrect to use "if it was true" in a conditional sentence that assumes that the item was not true -- usually followed by a clause with 'would" in it. However, if the second clause contains an indicative verb, "was" may be perfectly correct.

    If the allegation was true, then the conviction was justified.
    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.
    Mike, your last sentecne looks strange. I don't know why you used present perfect here. Would you explain? :?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    We know the allegation isn't true: had been ... would have had
    If the allegation had been true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.

    We don't know if the allegation is true: were ... would have
    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have to bribe witnesses.

    Consider these,

    If X were true, she would go to jail.
    => We don't know if X is true.

    If X had been true, she would have gone to jail.
    => We know that X is not true.

    :D
    That's precisely my point, Cas. I said I would have used one of these two in place of Mike's sentence (which is a mix of the two). As I didn't know you could do that, I asked for more details.

    FRC

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Francois
    If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses.
    This one puzzles me.
    I would have said either:
    "If the allegation had been true, then the prosecution would not have had to bribe witnesses."
    OR
    "If the allegation were true, then the prosecution would not have to bribe witnesses."
    What am I missing?

    FRC
    Your two sentences are fine, but they won't fit every context.

    I used a mixed conditional because the truth of the allegation is still under consideration "now". With the "had been true" form, the question is about an allegation in the past. In the second sentence, it may be that the prosecutors have yet to make the bribes.

    1. The allegation was made.
    2. A trial was held.
    3. It was discovered that the prosecution had bribed witnesses (before now).
    4. We are questioning "now" the truthfullnness of the past allegation.

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    Default

    TY for the details. I guess my (typically ESL) vision of grammar is a tad too rigid

    FRC

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Francois
    TY for the details. I guess my (typically ESL) vision of grammar is a tad too rigid

    FRC
    Your English is excellent. There are many ways to express one's thoughts. It is best to get the common structures down first. Then you can expand. Here is a little more on mixed conditionals:

    http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary...ditionals.html

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