Past-Subjunctive WAS in counter-to-fact IF clauses
zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Nov 29 00:53:14 UTC 2000
>The point is that WERE is the present subjunctive but WAS is the
>past subjunctive. Since the time is past, I'd use the past
>WHAT IF NIXON ACTUALLY WAS THE REAL WINNER OF THE ELECTION?
>WHAT IF NADER ACTUALLY WERE THE REAL WINNER OF THE ELECTION?
>My memory is that this is what the old-timey rule-books say.
that's what fowler 1926 says.
it doesn't fit my judgments at all. for me, the nixon sentence
is merely conditional, not specifically counterfactual; the
specifically counterfactual would be
WHAT IF NIXON ACTUALLY HAD BEEN THE REAL WINNER OF THE ELECTION?
this is the system described in the big quirk et al. grammar.
everybody seems to agree that the nixon sentence with WERE (and
past reference) is out. but there seem to be two different
schemes for the counterfactual in the past. (plus the innovative,
and still non-standard, counterfactual with WOULD: WOULD HAVE BEEN.)
arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)
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