was/were in the Subjunctive


Pardon me, but I need a moment to rant.

Every day, I have been hearing more and more people saying “was” instead of “were” when they talk in the subjunctive mood. I’m not sure why it, of all things, drive me up a wall, but it does.

When I was working at the ICC (a computer literacy building) for a day, the teacher was having the student write poems. Each poem was written online, on a poem template. Each poem started with the word “If.” The theme of the poems was “becoming a rockstar,” and I kid you not, every single elementary school kid in there started his/her/zir poem “If I was a rockstar…”

It killed me a bit inside, and after class I talked to my professor. (By the way, this happened at my college!) You’d think that at an institution that respects academia would try to propagate…

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Learning the Second Conditional with FRIENDS

If I asked for the money, I would give it back.
If they gave me the money, I would pay it back.
If they didn’t lend me the money, I would be angry.
If I didn’t pay the money back, they would be unhappy.

He would be unhappy if I didn’t lend the money.
He would be angry if I didn’t lend the money.
She wouldn’t pay it back if I lent her the money.


Second conditional

The Second Conditional is used to talk about ‘impossible’ situations.

If we were in London today, we would be able to go to the concert in Hyde Park.

If I had millions dollars, I’d give a lot to charity.

If there were no hungry people in this world, it would be a much better place.

If everyone had clean water to drink, there would be a lot less disease.

Note that after I / he/ she /it we often use the subjunctive form ‘were’ and not ‘was’. (Some people think that ‘were’ is the only ‘correct’ form but other people think ‘was’ is equally ‘correct’ .)

If she were happy in her job, she wouldn’t be looking for another one.

If I lived in Japan, I’d have sushi every day.

If they were to enter our market, we’d have big problems.

Note the form ‘If I were you’ which is often used to give advice.

If I were you, I’d look for a new place to live.

If I were you, I’d go back to school and get more qualifications.

The Second Conditional is also used to talk about ‘unlikely’ situations.

If I went to China, I’d visit the Great Wall.

If I was the President, I’d reduce taxes.

If you were in my position, you’d understand.

Note that the choice between the first and the second conditional is often a question of the speaker’s attitude rather than of facts. Compare these examples. Otto thinks these things are possible, Peter doesn’t.

Otto – If I win the lottery, I’ll buy a big house.

Peter – If I won the lottery, I’d buy a big house.

Otto – If I get promoted, I’ll throw a big party.

Peter – If I got promoted, I’d throw a big party.

Otto – If my team win the Cup, I’ll buy champagne for everybody.

Peter – If my team won the Cup, I’d buy champagne for everybody.
Source: learnrealenglish.com


The subjunctive mood in English grammar includes particular verb forms that are used in certain clauses, chiefly dependent clauses, to express necessity, desire, purpose, suggestion and similar ideas, or a counterfactual condition.

In Modern English the subjunctive form of a verb is in many cases the same as a corresponding indicative form, and thus subjunctives are not a very visible grammatical feature of English. For most verbs, the only distinct subjunctive form is found in the third-person singular of the present tense, where the subjunctive lacks the -s ending: It is necessary that he see a doctor (contrasted with the indicative he sees). However, the verb be has not only a distinct present subjunctive (be, as in I suggest that they be removed) but also a past subjunctive were (as in If I were rich, …).

These two tenses of the subjunctive have no particular connection in meaning with present and past time. Terminology varies; sometimes what is called the present subjunctive here is referred to simply as the subjunctive, and, the form were may be treated just as an alternative irrealis form of was rather than a past subjunctive.

Another case where present subjunctive forms are distinguished from indicatives is when they are negated: compare I recommend they not enter the competition (subjunctive) with I hope they do not enter the competition (indicative).
Source: Wikipedia