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  1. Junior Member
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    #1

    If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    What is the meaning of the following sentence? And why in the sentence "were" is used with "the truth" instead of "was" as "truth" is a singular noun?

    "If the truth were to prove as bad as that, it would be more than I could bear."

    Source: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anna Frank.

  2. teechar's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by Fwvo View Post
    What is the meaning of the following sentence?
    I wouldn't be able to bear the truth if it turns out to be that bad.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fwvo View Post
    And why in the sentence "were" is used with "the truth" instead of "was" as "truth" is a singular noun?
    This is the subjunctive. Can you guess why it is used in the above context?

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    #3

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    I wouldn't be able to bear the truth if it turns out to be that bad.


    This is the subjunctive. Can you guess why it is used in the above context?
    I don't know about subjunctive.

  4. teechar's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    It is used to distance something from reality/possibility.

    Here, the prospect of the truth being horrible is painful, so the author used the subjunctive. It dramatizes the sentence by widening the (emotional) potential between the green and blue parts. In other words, "were" makes the sentence more dramatic than "was" would.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fwvo View Post
    If the truth were to prove as bad as that, it would be more than I could bear."

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    #5

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    Here, the prospect of the truth being horrible is painful, so the author used the subjunctive. It dramatizes the sentence by widening the (emotional) potential between the green and blue parts. In other words, "were" makes the sentence more dramatic than "was" would.
    I don't agree.

    1. "If the truth proves as bad as that, it will be more than I could bear."
    2. "If the truth proved as bad as that, it would be more than I could bear."
    3. "If the truth were to prove as bad as that, it would be more than I could bear."
    4."If the truth was to prove as bad as that, it would be more than I could bear."

    #1 presents the possibility of the truth being as bad as that as real.

    #2-4, by using past/distancing tenses , present the possibility as less real or unreal.

    The use of the more formal 'were/were to prove' rather than the simple 'proved' perhaps makes the possibility more hypothetical. The difference between 'were and 'was' has nothing to do with degrees of emotional potential. It is simply that a minority of speakers of BrE use the subjunctive form 'were' which purists would maintain is the only correct form. The majority know little or nothing of the subjunctive, and use the indicative 'was'.
    Last edited by Piscean; 09-Aug-2019 at 21:01. Reason: minor typo

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    #6

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    This is another case where I'm pretty sure most Americans would stick with the subjunctive.
    I am not a teacher.

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    #7

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    I thought so. That's why I was careful to note that I was talking about BrE.

  8. teechar's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    It is simply that a minority of speakers of BrE use the subjunctive form 'were' which purists would maintain is the only correct form. The majority know little or nothing of the subjunctive, and use the indicative 'was'.
    How can you be so sure that the author in this case did not purposefully use the subjunctive?

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    #9

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    How can you be so sure that the author in this case did not purposefully use the subjunctive?
    I didn't say that I was.

    I don't know which mood Anne Frank used in the original; if Dutch is like the closely-related German, it would have been the subjunctive. The translator having chosen the was/were to prove way of expressing Frank's words in English, I'm sure s/he deliberately chose subjunctive were. I would have done the same. Unless I were trying to suggest that Frank wasn't particularly well educated, it wouldn't occur to me to use was.

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    #10

    Re: If the truth were to prove as bad as that,

    Quote Originally Posted by teechar View Post
    How can you be so sure that the author in this case did not purposefully use the subjunctive?
    Do you mean Anne Frank herself or the translator?

    Like Piscean, I'm guessing they both did.

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