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seun
09-14-2006, 05:32 PM
The difference between these two is something I've always found interesting. For example, my girlfriend said this morning:

"I wish it were Friday."

I said she should have used 'was' instead of were and then wasn't sure if I was right. I put that down to lack of coffee :)

Using were in that sort of context has always struck me as an Americanism. Using that example, I wouldn't write the sentence with 'were' and probably wouldn't say it that way, either. Were is past; was is present.

Am I being picky?

Bubastes
09-14-2006, 05:50 PM
I believe that both are correct, but "were" is the more traditional and formal usage. "Were" is past subjunctive (and used to express a conditional statement like "I wish it were Friday"), "was" is simple past, IIRC.

Can anyone else help?

FloVoyager
09-14-2006, 06:57 PM
"Were" is correct, in this context. "Was" is a part of casual American speech, but not strictly correct. I'll use "was" in dialog occasionally, if the character speaks that way.

maestrowork
09-14-2006, 07:17 PM
It's called subjunctive, usually following "wish" or "if," for example:

Wish you were here.

If I were a rich man...

Bufty
09-14-2006, 07:22 PM
Also.

If I was hungry.........I probably will be hungry at some time, but

If I were a billionaire...indicating I think it highly improbable

rekirts
09-14-2006, 07:39 PM
'Is' is present tense, 'was' is past tense, as in, "It was a beautiful day yesterday."

In your example, 'were' is subjunctive (which has already been covered), but it can also be simple past with a plural subject, as in, "Tom and Eliza were here yesterday."

JanDarby
09-15-2006, 12:05 AM
Yep. Subjunctive. The choice depends on whether the "if" is referring to something that's true or not true.

If I WERE rude, I'd know it -- means that I was NOT rude.

If I was rude, I apologize -- means it's possible I was rude.

The subjunctive seems to be fading into obscurity, but I guess I'm an old fogie and like the nuanced implications of using it.

JD

sewwriter
09-15-2006, 07:13 AM
The way I remember it is:
Was=could happen
Were=not gonna happen

I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener is right, because humans can't exactly turn into hot dogs.

I have a friend (and fellow grammar nerd) who loved to make fun of the song with the line "don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" and say it should be "don't you wish your girlfriend could use the subjunctive tense?" Not as catchy, but she has a point.

Sarah

seun
09-15-2006, 12:29 PM
Interesting. I plan on asking a few friends their thoughts and comparing them to the replies here. I still think were in the example I gave is more of an Americanism than English English but then that's the fun of langauage.

Jamesaritchie
09-15-2006, 05:48 PM
The difference between these two is something I've always found interesting. For example, my girlfriend said this morning:

"I wish it were Friday."

I said she should have used 'was' instead of were and then wasn't sure if I was right. I put that down to lack of coffee :)

Using were in that sort of context has always struck me as an Americanism. Using that example, I wouldn't write the sentence with 'were' and probably wouldn't say it that way, either. Were is past; was is present.

Am I being picky?

"Were" is correct. "I wish it were" means it isn't Friday.

Aubrey
09-15-2006, 07:39 PM
It drives me nuts when I run into songs with subjunctive (clunkiest word ever!) allergies. Like the afore mentioned hot like me song or Gwen Steffani's remake of If I Were a Rich Man. Why change the grammar when you remake the song? It wasn't wrong to begin with!

I'm an old fogie I guess, but I'm always using "were" for ponderings and fantasies ("I wish I were sailing") and I think- hope, it is the one stuffy grammar rule I'm actually getting right. I don't even dare try with using most, like whom (except after a proposition).

rekirts
09-15-2006, 08:34 PM
Interesting. I plan on asking a few friends their thoughts and comparing them to the replies here. I still think were in the example I gave is more of an Americanism than English English but then that's the fun of langauage.Americans didn't invent the subjunctive mood. I'm pretty sure Americans didn't speak Old English. From here: (http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/excerpts.html)


Like the term imperative, the term subjunctive refers to a particular verb form. In Old English, special verb forms existed to communicate non-facts, e.g., wants, hopes, and hypothetical situations. The subjunctive is somewhat weak in Modern English, but there are speakers who use it routinely. In many cases, the subjunctive is a form learned in school or through reading, so it is educated speakers who use it most. The modern subjunctive expresses a variety of deontic meanings.
I use the subjunctive and I'm not American. Canadian grammar and spelling is usually closer to the British than the American way. (Although I expect that's gradually changing.)

Jamesaritchie
09-15-2006, 09:43 PM
It drives me nuts when I run into songs with subjunctive (clunkiest word ever!) allergies. Like the afore mentioned hot like me song or Gwen Steffani's remake of If I Were a Rich Man. Why change the grammar when you remake the song? It wasn't wrong to begin with!

I'm an old fogie I guess, but I'm always using "were" for ponderings and fantasies ("I wish I were sailing") and I think- hope, it is the one stuffy grammar rule I'm actually getting right. I don't even dare try with using most, like whom (except after a proposition).

I don't believe this one is a stuffy grammar rule. "Was" and "were" completely change the meaning of a sentence

maestrowork
09-15-2006, 09:47 PM
I don't believe this one is a stuffy grammar rule. "Was" and "were" completely change the meaning of a sentence

I agree. It's not something like "don't start a sentence with a conjunction." "Were" dictates a mood. "Was" is simple past tense, but "were" is clear that we're talking about something different.

Jamesaritchie
09-15-2006, 09:54 PM
Interesting. I plan on asking a few friends their thoughts and comparing them to the replies here. I still think were in the example I gave is more of an Americanism than English English but then that's the fun of langauage.

"Was" used in the context you mention is not in any way an Americanism. It's simply a lack of knowledgeism. The subjunctive use of "were" is made very clear in any grammar book you care to pick up, including ones from jr. high school. I know. I have a seventh grade grammar book that was mine more than thirty-five years ago, and the subjunctive mood is spelled out clearly. It's also spelled out in my son's current grammar book. This is, and always has been, basic grammar, even in America.

Unless your friends actually know something about grammar, they probably will say "was." It means only that your friends need to go back to grammar class. Most people do. Math and grammar are the two classes most students trance out in. But lack of knowledge does not make something correct, and does not make it an Americanism. It merely means a lack of knowledge. And it drives agents and editors up the proverbial wall.