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  1. Ana Laura
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    #1

    Post variation of conditionals.

    Hello,
    I would like to know if the following sentences are correct:

    * If I were to say I love you, what would you do?
    Were I to say I love you...

    * Can it be? ' Was He to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly'.
    I don't remember if 'were' goes with he/she.

    Thanks


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    #2

    Re: variation of conditionals.

    Hi Ana Laura,
    I may be wrong, but "If I were to say..." looks odd to me. I'd change it to
    If I said..., what would you do?
    As to #2 it looks OK, "was he" being colloquial or AE and "were he" more standard.
    Cheers


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    #3

    Re: variation of conditionals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ana Laura View Post
    Hello,
    I would like to know if the following sentences are correct:
    * If I were to say I love you, what would you do?
    Were I to say I love you...
    * Can it be? ' Was He to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly'.
    I don't remember if 'were' goes with he/she.
    Thanks
    "If I were to say I love you, what would you do?" is the correct subjunctive mood form of the question. It indicates that you are unlikely to say such a thing, but you are speculating as to the person's reaction 'were you to do so'.

    "If I WAS to say I love you, what would you do?" is the indicative equivalent, and traditionally should only be used if I am likely to say 'I love you'. However, this rule is the subject of argument, and in practice is not likely to be observed.

    In fact, the most common usage is to omit the auxiliary altogether. For example, in the title of the Bellamy Brothers' song: "If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?" By the way, the title here is exploiting the ambiguity in the phrase 'would you hold it against me?' for humorous effect. It may mean physically 'hold your body against me', or it may mean the idiom 'hold a grudge against sb'.

    Your second sentence follows exactly the same rules, but because it does not employ an 'if' clause, the auxiliary is necessary. It doesn't matter whether the sentence is in the first, second or third person. The equivalent in your first sentence is:

    "Were (was) I to say I love you, what would you do?"

  2. Philly's Avatar

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    #4

    Ae

    Quote Originally Posted by Humble View Post
    As to #2 it looks OK, "was he" being colloquial or AE and "were he" more standard.
    Hi Humble
    I'm quite curious about your comment regarding AE. Assuming AE means American English, could I ask if are you under the impression that Americans would never use "were he" or "if he were"? Is it your opinion that AE is substandard? Have you checked the BNC for "if he was" ?


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    #5

    Re: variation of conditionals.

    Coffa:
    "If I were to say I love you, what would you do?" is the correct subjunctive mood form of the question. It indicates that you are unlikely to say such a thing, but you are speculating as to the person's reaction 'were you to do so'.


    I'm afraid that this is simply not true, Coffa. "If I were to say I love you, what would you do?" is no more correct than "If I said I loved you, what would you do?"

    More formal language does NOT equate to more correct language. That is an old canard. You noted in your post that "the most common usage is to omit the auxiliary altogether".


    "If I WAS to say I love you, what would you do?" is the indicative equivalent, and traditionally should only be used if I am likely to say 'I love you'. However, this rule is the subject of argument, and in practice is not likely to be observed.

    Note that you said "equivalent", Coffa and that it is. Language is much too complex to try to describe all situations with overly simplistic "rules".

    If I say, "If I was Coffa, ..." does it entail that I think it's likely that I am you? If one says, "If I was a bird, ..." does it entail that that person or any other sentient person alive thinks it likely that the person is a bird.

    There is no 'rule'. There is a prescription but when we look to how language is actually interpreted, it's abundantly clear that the 'rule' is completely bogus.

    Don't take this personally, Coffa. I know that this bogus rule is not of your making. It is an old rule that long predates you but that hardly makes it an accurate rule.

    And it's bogus for good reasons. Past tense FORMS combined with 'if', are used to effect a counterfactual meaning, "If I moved to London, ...". That is, as you note, a common method of denoting "subjunctive" moods. So it is with the past tense FORM, 'was'.

    It's doing exactly the same thing that the lexical verbs, examples, 'play/walk/go', do when their past tense FORMS are used with 'if'; they denote a range of speech that doesn't simply denote counterfactuals but rather denotes a range that goes from 'doubtful to counterfactual'. Note that the true subjunctive forms do the same thing. They do not simply describe opposite to the truth situations. They too describe "a range that goes from doubtful to counterfactual".

    Does this mean that 'was' can't be used to state, "allowing that something may have happened", as in,

    "If she was at work today, then I must be blind"? No, of course not. But it's context that clues ENLs in to such a meaning and for prescriptivists to suggest that 'was' combined with 'if' always carries such a meaning is beyond disingenuous.

    Last edited by riverkid; 10-Sep-2006 at 19:16.

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    #6

    Re: variation of conditionals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ana Laura View Post
    Hello,
    I would like to know if the following sentences are correct:
    * If I were to say I love you, what would you do?
    Were I to say I love you...

    * Can it be? ' Was He to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly'.
    I don't remember if 'were' goes with he/she.
    Thanks
    Hello Ana Laura

    Just to clarify:


    1. If I were to say I love you, what would you do?

    — This is fine.

    2. Were I to say I love you, what would you do?

    — This is also fine.

    3. Was he to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly.

    — In British English, although the form "if he was to do X, Y would happen" is common, the inverted version ("Was he to do X, Y would happen") is quite rare, even in non-standard English. This is the usual version:

    4. Were he to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly.

    All the best,

    MrP


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    #7

    Re: variation of conditionals.

    Quote Originally Posted by MrPedantic View Post
    Hello Ana Laura
    Just to clarify:
    3. Was he to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly.
    — In British English, although the form "if he was to do X, Y would happen" is common, the inverted version ("Was he to do X, Y would happen") is quite rare, even in non-standard English. This is the usual version:
    4. Were he to lose his job, he would not find a new one quickly.
    MrP
    Mr P's right. Thanks for covering that, Sir. This is the norm for all of English.

    CGEL [page 86; footnote 7]: "Two places where were cannot be replaced by was are inverted conditionals (... were I not working on ...) and the fixed phrase as it were; if I were you bears some resemblance to a fixed phrase and was is less usual here than in conditionals generally.


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    #8

    Smile Re: variation of conditionals.

    Oh no, not snake and pygmy pie again! (A cannibal to his wife chopping a cobra and a small native)
    Dear Philly
    I don’t feel like debating about AmE vs BrE. Neither is worse or better than the other. I’ve seen so many fierce squabbles in forums. It’s just a waste of time. Sometimes I wish there were Academie Anglaise.
    I love all kinds of English.
    As to using If I was / If I were in the Subjunctive, I read in a grammar book the former is either colloquial or AmE.
    “Occasionally the form was canbefound in the sigular.I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t certain.
    (Dickens)
    I haven’t got down to BNC yet. Google: If I was-25.4 million, If I were -31.2 million. Even if we left out the non-subjunctive If I was, the difference wouldn’t be great. But I prefer to keep to the basics.
    Regards

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