SUBJUNCTIVE OF THE VERB “BE”

Hi!

I read in the ESL lessons the story Subjunctive or Wishful Thinking and I noticed that it is mentioned that now people are beginning to say “If I was you” instead of “If I were you”.

I remember that I was told that the subjunctive form for the verb TO BE with the pronouns I, SHE, HE and IT is WERE, so when I listened the following sentences in two different songs, I thought they were incorrect.

  • I wish it was Sunday
  • What if God was one of us?

I thought that they should be:

  • I wish it were Sunday
  • What if God were one of us?

But now, after reading in the story the comment that you have simplified the subjunctive to such an extent that it has almost disappeared, I realized that may be the sentences I heard would not be correct in the past, but at present they are accepted.

I would like to hear your comments about the subject. Is it acceptable nowadays to use both WAS and WERE with I, IT, SHE and HE in subjunctive?

I know and I agree that all languages change every day because it is a normal process of evolution, but how can I distinguish, if people are using new grammar rules or are not speaking correctly?

I hope you can help me.

Cheers.

Personally, I still use ‘were’ in the examples that you have quoted, but many people - especially those in younger age groups (of which there are many!) now use ‘was’. It’s acceptable in everyday life… but if you are sitting a formal exam it should be avoided as there is a risk that you will lose marks for not using – what is still ultimately – the correct form.

Hi Lobo,

I’m glad you read my story ‘Wishful thinking’. In it I was trying to show that the use of the subjunctive is less used nowadays. The reason why this is so is because it is only really discernible with the verb ‘be’. It says on in expressions like ‘If I were you’ in place of ‘If I was you’. It is difficult to say whether one is right and another is wrong.

Alan

Hi Alan /Beeesnees,

Thank you for your comments. It is good to know that what I thought was correct. I mean it is better to use WERE instead of WAS.

Well I think that, as Alan said, it is not easy to know when people are not speaking good English.

I think that the English that it is used in songs is the one spoken in everyday life and, therefore, sometimes it is difficult to understand by foreigners who learn English in the correct form, I mean with all the grammar rules.

Well, I guess that to have a good level of English what we have to do is to listen and read as much English as we can every day, and compare the different ways the people speak. So I will continue reading and enjoying Alan’s stories.

Cheers!