Past-Subjunctive WAS in counter-to-fact IF clauses

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Thu Nov 23 01:53:16 UTC 2000

It has been a long time since this thread died, but I am only just reading my
e-mail from late October, and I'm wondering if there isn't another way
looking at this.

Isn't it the case that, in counter-to-fact if-clauses, the prescriptive rule
allows the subjunctive BE?  An alternative second HAD BEEN might also be
grammatically acceptable, but its repetitiousness is something to avoid if

Then, assuming that BE is correct, WAS, the past subjunctive of BE, is also
preferable to WERE.

In other words, the Brits got it right.
Rudy <rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU> wrote, concerning the sentence

       "The roof of one carriage had been peeled off as if it was a
sardine can."

<<My colleague was shocked by the inappropriate use of the past "was"
instead of the proper irrealis sequence-of-tense past perfect "had been".
What's British English coming to?>>

In a message dated 10/28/2000 6:46:52 PM, highbob at MINDSPRING.COM answered:

<< I caught that last one, too, Rudy.  But couldn't one also have used the
subjunctive "were"?  I think that's what I would have done, had I been in a
situation with sufficient time to proof, or if I weren't in a rush.  In
conversation, I'd uh probably said the exact same thing.


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