General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What's the reason for the enclosed English grammar usage?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) April 3rd, 2012

When I grew up back in the 60s and 70s, I learned to say “If I were…” It’s what I learned from hearing it at home and from school.

Why on earth, when we use the conditional “if,” do we use a plural verb with the singular pronoun?

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9 Answers

ratboy's avatar

“Were” is the subjunctive mood of “to be.”

Jeruba's avatar

Right. In this use it isn’t plural at all. It just so happens that many slots in the table of conjugations are filled by the same form, but their meaning is as different as the difference in meaning between “am” and “is” or “was” and “will be.”

DominicX's avatar

It’s similar to the sentence “I suggest that he go to the hospital.” Normally you’d say “he goes to the hospital” but because this sentence uses the subjunctive, “go” is in the form that looks like the plural, although it’s actually subjunctive singular.

(The distinctive subjunctive in English is also only manifest in a few cases and in many ways, it is dying out).

gailcalled's avatar

If I were king, I could change the rules.

anartist's avatar

As said above, “were” is subjunctive form not the plural indicative form.
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” could also be ” If a wish were a horse, a beggar could ride” Note the all-important “if”

2davidc8's avatar

Were it not for the excellent explanations already given above, i might have tried my hand at answering this.
Hey, there are some very distinguished linguists here on Fluther!

gailcalled's avatar

Should it be possible to think of more examples, someone here would probably do it.

ccrow's avatar

How about ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you’? Isn’t it something about a hypothetical, rather than actual, situation? Ah, here’s a site that explains it.

Buttonstc's avatar

“If I were a wealthy man…”

…..............................

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPl7BVr36bbs&v=Pl7BVr36bbs&gl=US

….........................

“All day long I’d dibby , dibby dum…....”

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