was/were

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Carmenn

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May 11, 2007
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Hi everybody :)
Could you please tell me why is this sentence right? because in my opinion it's not.
''He acted as if he were guilty.''
Isn't this the right one ?
''He acted as if he was guilty''
We are talking about the singular, right? >>HE
Then...shouldn't ''was'' be used instead of ''were''? :)
 

seba_870701

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Feb 19, 2007
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Student or Learner
I was thaught that both versions are correct.
(not a teacher)
 

Veron1

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Jun 18, 2007
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I'm not a teacher



It's a conditional sentence


In unreal conditionals we use if....+wereto talk about imaginary future situations:
If I were rich ,I would buy a Marcedes
(meaning:I'm not rich now I just imagine that)

If I were you,I would go to France
(meaning:I imagine. I can't be the person I'm talking with.It's impossible:I can't be him)
Your sentence now:
''He acted as if he were guilty.''
(meaning: the person who is speaking knows very well that this"he" is undoubtly guiltyand he is right )
So "if he were guilty'':is unreal conditional that is we are talking about imaginary future situation

If you are not using the conditional of course you must use "was" not "were",Ok!

I hope it is clear

I.A;-)
 

riverkid

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Aug 17, 2006
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English Teacher
Hi everybody :)
Could you please tell me why [is] this sentence is right? because in my opinion it's not.
''He acted as if he were guilty.''
Isn't this the right one ?
''He acted as if he was guilty''
We are talking about the singular, right? >>HE
Then...shouldn't ''was'' be used instead of ''were''? :)

Both sentences are fine, Carmenn. In English when we use conditional sentences to talk about doubtful or counterfactual things we often use the subjunctive form, which means [you likely know this already] that we combine 'were' with all subject pronouns

If I/you/he/she/we/they/it were ...

But the subjunctive is a moribund form in English. English has lost most subjunctive forms and for those that remain, we have at least one other form to describe the same thing.

So, that means that we can and do also use 'was' for some pronouns.

This,

''He acted as if he were guilty.''

could be a clear counterfactual wherein the speaker is saying;

I know he isn't guilty but he acted like he was/is guilty.

OR it could be an expression of doubt wherein the speaker has no opinion on whether 'he' is guilty or not.

Remember that language has to describe a whole range of possibilities.
 
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