wish it was vs wish it were

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wish it was vs wish it were

Post by Archived Topic » Sun Jun 13, 2004 9:51 am

Would appreciate sources for positions on this ,that don't make irrelevant comments based on rules of latin grammar.
Seems to be based on conditional vs subjunctive, but i can't
find a clear statement of correct usage based on something other than personal authority. Thanks.
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wish it was vs wish it were

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 10:05 am

You know beforehand what is relevant and what is not. People like you generally don't need help.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 10:20 am

My question was poorly worded.I want something like a chart showing grammar differs in major western languages.In latin
inflectionof tense is shownby a suffix that also shows the person, mood, and voice of the verb.Since english is derived from german.i have got explanations couched in latin terminolgylike ablatives,accusatives.Mayber language isnt capable of being rationally explained .
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 10:34 am

From Handbook of Technical Writing, sixth edition

The subjunctive mood expresses something that is contrary to fact, conditional, hypothetical, or purely imaginative; it can also express a wish, a doubt, or a possibility. In the subjunctive mood, "were" is used instead of "was." In clauses that speculate about the present or future, the base for (be) is used following certain verbs, such as "propose," "request," and "insist."

The most common use of the subjunctive mood is to express clearly that the writer considers a condition to be contrary to fact. If the condition is not considered to be contrary to fact, the indicative mood is used (refers to an action or a state that is conceived as fact."

In written and especially in spoken English, there is an increasing tendency to use the indicative mood where the subjunctive traditionally has been used.
Traditional: I wish he were here now.
If I were going to the conference, I would room with him.
I requested that the show up on time.
Contemporary: I wish he was here now.
If I was going to the conference, I would room with him.
I requested that she shows up on time.

Hope this info helps.

Lois Martin, Birmingham, Alabama, May 8, 2002
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wish it was vs wish it were

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 10:49 am

Thanks for the effort lois I was looking for a distinction
between the subjunctive and conditional like the one in french, but apparently only makes sense to the french.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 11:03 am

Lois, Thanks. Whatever the questioner was getting at is a bit too esoteric for me to understand, but I really liked what you had to say. Recently, I have heard more and more people (newscasters, and other fairly literate folks) dropping the subjunctive ‘were’ in favor of the indicative ‘was,’ and was wondering what was going on and why they weren’t following the good-old-rules. You have helped answer this question, which has been bothering me for some time. The idea of contemporary usage versus traditional for if/were, etc. is appealing to me. It makes sense and eliminates one more lousy rule that has to be remembered, and decision that has to me made. As far as I’m concerned, it takes some of the junk out of subjunctive, as it were (‘as it was’ will never fly with those who know and love this particular subjunctive, and William Buckley would lose about 20% of what he has to say).

In her great little book ‘Woe is I’ Patricia T. O’Connor has a very nice discussion on the subjunctives, which I include below for your reading pleasure. Of course, much of what she says is obsolete if you subscribe to the contemporary usage. Nevertheless, it is interesting to know what the rules were historically (at least according to O’Connor’s), or what they are if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Buckleyite type, or if you are just a bit squeamish and prefer the traditional. And I can sympathize with the squeamites – old habits die hard, and when the ear becomes attuned to something, its difficult to retrain it (I still can’t say ‘for free,’ although I do now accept it as being sensible and correct, whereas some of the subjunctive stuff is just an outright pain in the ass, and it’s easy for me to say good riddance).
____________________________________________________

WOE IS I by Patricia T. O’Connor

WISHFUL THINKING: I WISH I WAS . . .OR . . . I WISH I WERE?

‘Difficult do you call it, Sir?’ the lexicographer Samuel Johnson once sad after hearing a violinist perform. ‘I wish it were impossible.’

‘Were?’ Why not ‘I wish it was impossible?’ …… There’s a peculiar, wishful kind of grammar for talking about things that are desirable, as opposed to things as that really are. When we’re in a wishful mood (a grammarian would call it the subjunctive mood), ‘was’ becomes ‘were.’

‘They wish he weren’t so obnoxious.’ (He is so obnoxious) [I’ll have no difficulty dropping this one]
____________________________________________________

IFFY SITUATIONS: IF I WAS . . . OR . . . IF I WERE?

What a difference an ‘if’ makes. An ordinary, straightforward statement like ‘I was taller’ becomes quite another proposition when we insert one little word; ‘If I were taller.’

Why is this? It’s because there is a special, ‘what if’ sort of grammar that kicks in when we talk about something that is untrue. When we are in the iffy mood (the subjunctive mood, if you want to be technical), ‘was’ becomes ‘were.’ This happens when a sentence or a clause starts with ‘if,’ and what’s being talked about is contrary to fact:

‘If I were king, no one would pay retail. (I’m not king.)
‘If she were older, she’d know better. (She’s not older.)
‘We could go shopping if it were Saturday. (Today is not Saturday.)
________________________________

Note: Not all ‘if’ statements fall into this category, only those that are undeniably contrary to fact. In cases where the statement may actually be true, ‘was’ remains ‘was’:

‘If I was rude, I apologize.’ ( I may have been rude.)
‘If she was there, I guess I missed her. (She may have been there.)
‘If it was Thursday, I must have gone to bed early. (It may have been Thursday.)
_________________________________

AS IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW

The same rules that apply to ‘if’ statements apply to those starting with ‘as if’ or ‘as though’:

“He acts as if he ‘were’ infallible.” (He’s not infallible.)
“She behaves as though money ‘were’ scarce. (Money is not scarce.)
____________________________________________________

SUGGESTIVE LANGUAGE

Sometimes English slips through a warp and into another dimension. In cases where we’d normally use verbs ‘was’ or ‘were’ we use ‘be’ instead. You might have wondered why, for example, we say, ‘I was quiet,’ but ‘They requested that I be quiet,’ What’s gong on here? The answer is that in English we have a special way of suggesting or demanding something (here’s another example of the subjunctive mood). This is what you need to remember:

Use ‘be’ instead of ‘was’ or ‘were’ after someone ‘suggests,’ ‘demands,’ ‘asks,’ ‘requests,’ ‘requires,’ or ‘insists’ that something be done. [[oy vey!]]

‘I demanded that I be excused.’
‘The judge ordered that he be executed.’
‘Olivia insists they be admitted free.’
‘The law requires that you be fingerprinted.’
______________________

If ‘be’ sounds unnatural to your ear, just imagine an unspoken ‘should’ in front of it:

‘I demanded that I (should) be excused’
‘The judged ordered that he (should) be excused.
‘Olivia insisted they (should) be admitted free. [ha, O’Conner can’t bring herself to say ‘for free’ either – so I am not alone!]
‘The law requires that you (should) be fingerprinted’

By the way, the form of the verb used here – BE instead of ‘was’ or ‘were’ – is similar to the one used for a command: ‘BE good!’ ‘BE quiet!’ BE there or BE square!’

Note: Although ‘was, ‘were,’ and ‘be’ give us the most trouble when we’re suggesting or demanding something, other verbs must also be in the command form when they’re forced to give ‘command’ performances: ‘Mom demands that Ricky eat.’ ‘ We insist that she walk.’ ‘He urged that Barbara negotiate.’ ‘I suggested he go.’ Again, if this feels unnatural, imagine an unspoken ‘should’ in front of the verb: ‘I suggested he [should] go.
_________________

Ken G – May 8, 2002
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 11:17 am

Wow, Ken! Even though that was a lot of info, it was actually useful. I had never really had trouble with the "if I were" type constructions for "iffy" situations, but I didn't realize that "if I was" could also be correct, depending on the circumstances. The part about the suggestive language also helps. As an internal auditor, part of my job is to recommend changes and/or improvements. I have always written things like "We recommend that X develop procedures to . . . ." I knew that was right, but I didn't know why until now. When in doubt, I'll now add the implied "should" to see what makes sense. Thanks.
Reply from K Allen Griffy (Springfield, IL - U.S.A.)
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wish it was vs wish it were

Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 11:32 am

Lois, this is a false distinction between what you call "traditional" and "contemporary". The examples you give of "contemporary" usage are simply incorrect usage. The fact that they are commonly heard doesn't make them correct. They're just examples of lazy usage. The conditional use of "If" requires 'were' not 'was'. The distinction between the past tense and the conditional is a useful distinction for purposes of communicating clearly. Let's not degrade the language just because we're too lazy to remember the difference.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 11:46 am

I'm all for keeping the traditional use of subjunctive. The discussion I quote about traditional vs. contemporary usage is a direct quote from the cited source (Handbook of Technical Writing) and, to clarify a little, appears in a section directed especially to readers for whom English is a second language. The reference also includes a lengthier discussion about how, by using the subjunctive, a speaker may sound educated in certain groups and snobby in others. (Imagine William F. Buckley at your weekly poker game.) If I were queen of the grammar world, I would declare proper use of subjunctive mandatory!

Lois Martin, Birmingham, AL, May 10, 2002
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:01 pm

NOw please try to make the distinction between the conditional and the subjunctive because it always seemed to me to be the same thing both if it was and if it were are conditional and saying if it were because it sounds better
really says it raises me above the hoi polloi who don't know a subjunctive even exists. An elitist and proud of it,
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:15 pm

I never learned about the subjunctive or indicative moods in English class. In Spanish we learned about these moods. I find my schooling on the components and grammar of the English language to be poor. Probably some feel good liberal, whole language crap, kept this education from me.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:29 pm

Note the clueless insertion of commas! I'm taking this to court!
Reply from christine Gilpatrick (Cornwall - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:44 pm

If with real estate it's location,location, location; with writing it's clarity, clarity, clarity. Followed by brevity.
Ready for lapidation.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:58 pm

Sed caveat! Noli sacrificium claritus prae brevitas.
________________

Ken – April 11, 2002
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Post by Archived Reply » Sun Jun 13, 2004 1:13 pm

Like christine, I, too, never learned about the subjunctive mood until I took Spanish and French. I did learn--somewhere along the way--the proper use of the subjunctive mood ("if I were . . ."), but I never learned all the details or even what it was called. It's no wonder kids today can't spell or construct logical sentences. *G*
Reply from K Allen Griffy (Springfield, IL - U.S.A.)
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