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

Bob Haas highbob at MINDSPRING.COM
Tue Nov 28 20:13:35 UTC 2000

Good point, Ron, but (and I'm really just trying to figure out what would be
best here; it's not just my normal contentiousness) why does the actuality
of the roof being peeled off take precedent over the metaphoric fancy of the
sardine can analogy?  That's what would lead me to use WERE instead of WAS.
And wouldn't the WERE take its cue from the IF that almost immediately
precedes it?  Doesn't that determine the subjunctive mood of the verb to


> From: RonButters at AOL.COM
> Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 20:53:16 EST
> Subject: Past-Subjunctive WAS in counter-to-fact IF clauses
> 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
> possible.
> 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."

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