[Grammar] "If a person were presenting only one idea....."

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bottomup44

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Not long ago I did a series of creative thinking workshops for the executive staff of a large computer company. The president had called me in because he was concerned about the stagnant thinking environment at the top. It seemed that whenever his subordinates would make a proposal, that’s all they’d make ─ just one. They wouldn’t offer any other ideas. Since they had been trained to look for the right answer, they usually didn’t go beyond the first one they found. The president knew that it was easier to make good decisions if he had a variety of ideas from which to choose. He was also concerned with how conservative this “one-idea” tendency had made his people’s thinking. If a person were presenting only one idea, he would generally propose the “sure things” rather than take a chance on a less likely off-beat idea.

In the highlighted sentence, why should the verb be "were" instead of "was"? It seems to me that the sentence is not one written in "the subjunctive mood". Is this just a typo?
 

Rover_KE

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It is indeed written in the subjunctive mood, though 'was' would be equally acceptable to most English speakers.

Rover
 

bottomup44

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Thank you for the reply!

I'm still confused, though. If it is written in the subjunctive mood, what is the author's intention here? When we use the past subjunctive, doesn't it usually refer counterfactually to something present? In the text cited above, people were actually proposing only one idea. Then what is counterfactual in this sentence? What does he intend to mean, using the past subjunctive here?
 

Barb_D

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The writer has moved to the abstract, hypothetical with that sentence.

Note that the subjunctive seems to be much healthier in the US, where utterances like "If I was you" are much less likely and often regarded by many in the same light as "I seen it."
 

MikeNewYork

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Not long ago I did a series of creative thinking workshops for the executive staff of a large computer company. The president had called me in because he was concerned about the stagnant thinking environment at the top. It seemed that whenever his subordinates would make a proposal, that’s all they’d make ─ just one. They wouldn’t offer any other ideas. Since they had been trained to look for the right answer, they usually didn’t go beyond the first one they found. The president knew that it was easier to make good decisions if he had a variety of ideas from which to choose. He was also concerned with how conservative this “one-idea” tendency had made his people’s thinking. If a person were presenting only one idea, he would generally propose the “sure things” rather than take a chance on a less likely off-beat idea.

In the highlighted sentence, why should the verb be "were" instead of "was"? It seems to me that the sentence is not one written in "the subjunctive mood". Is this just a typo?

The use of "the sure things" doesn't fit very well with "one idea". I would change that to "a sure thing".
 
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