PDA

View Full Version : "Was" vs. "were" in dialogue



Bubastes
01-17-2007, 06:19 PM
One of my characters needs to say something like "I wish she was/were as understanding as you." Do I use "was" or "were"? "Were" is grammatically correct, I believe, but I can't see a teenaged boy saying it. Any opinions?

Jamesaritchie
01-17-2007, 06:31 PM
One of my characters needs to say something like "I wish she was/were as understanding as you." Do I use "was" or "were"? "Were" is grammatically correct, I believe, but I can't see a teenaged boy saying it. Any opinions?

In dialogue, always, without exception, stay true to the character.

Bubastes
01-17-2007, 06:33 PM
In dialogue, always, without exception, stay true to the character.

"Was" it is, then. Thank you!

Maryn
01-17-2007, 07:22 PM
I'm late, but another vote for "was" coming out of this kid's lips.

Maryn, who says either depending on who's listening

MidnightMuse
01-17-2007, 07:25 PM
Ah, the beauty of dialogue in characterization :) Let the character decide their level of grammar, and stay true to that (so long as it's dialogue, of course)

Pamster
01-17-2007, 07:55 PM
Midnight Muse your Tiger Rabbit avatar is so COOL! I just had to say that. :D

As for was and were, I vote for "was" too. :) Sounds more natural in dialogue and you should be true to the character. :)

ErylRavenwell
01-18-2007, 06:54 AM
Were. I don't know why. Past subjunctive is not that uncommon in dialogue. I think the issue is trivial though. Matter of preference. Although I'm into 'Tis, 'bout and ect to give a real feel, sometime I just stick to the rule when in doubt.

Jamesaritchie
01-18-2007, 05:55 PM
Were. I don't know why. Past subjunctive is not that uncommon in dialogue. I think the issue is trivial though. Matter of preference. Although I'm into 'Tis, 'bout and ect to give a real feel, sometime I just stick to the rule when in doubt.

Only use were if the teenage boy really would. And if he does, then he'd better get all his other grammar correct, as well. It isn't a matter of preference, it's a matter of what that particular teenage boy would or wouldn't say if you met him on the street and had a conversation with him.

ErylRavenwell
01-19-2007, 08:21 AM
Only use were if the teenage boy really would. And if he does, then he'd better get all his other grammar correct, as well. It isn't a matter of preference, it's a matter of what that particular teenage boy would or wouldn't say if you met him on the street and had a conversation with him.


What you are saying is sensible. But overhall it is still a trivial matter, since the rest of the sentence is written in formal English. The reader wouldn't see the difference whether the writer uses "was" or "were". An ill-informed reader might think it is typo if the writer uses "were", but that about it. More concisely, I mean if you are writing something like that:

"He ain't comin' to my neck of the hood."

You capture a blackman's dialogue and it's obvious.

Or say, "me mam and me dad, mate." Aussie.

"How "bout givin' me a ride, ol' buddy?" Some American accent.

All these three examples are striking and aren't trivial, while in the above example whether she uses "was" or "were" it doesn't capture anything to be honest.

Jamesaritchie
01-19-2007, 04:46 PM
What you are saying is sensible. But overhall it is still a trivial matter, since the rest of the sentence is written in formal English. The reader wouldn't see the difference whether the writer uses "was" or "were". An ill-informed reader might think it is typo if the writer uses "were", but that about it. More concisely, I mean if you are writing something like that:

"He ain't comin' to my neck of the hood."

You capture a blackman's dialogue and it's obvious.

Or say, "me mam and me dad, mate." Aussie.

"How "bout givin' me a ride, ol' buddy?" Some American accent.

All these three examples are striking and aren't trivial, while in the above example whether she uses "was" or "were" it doesn't capture anything to be honest.

I don't think it's trivial at all. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and every single word matters greatly, particularly in dialogue. The idea is to get every single word correct.

As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Never have a reader believe something might be a typo, and never, ever, under any circumstances, put a single word into a character's mouth that the character wouldn't actually use.

ColoradoGuy
01-20-2007, 04:51 AM
I've yet to meet a teenager who speaks in the subjunctive, and I deal with a lot of them. (I live in the intermountain West, if that matters.) Were I to meet one, I'd remember it.

Jamesaritchie
01-20-2007, 05:20 AM
I've yet to meet a teenager who speaks in the subjunctive, and I deal with a lot of them. (I live in the intermountain West, if that matters.) Were I to meet one, I'd remember it.

Well, mine do, but probably only when I'm around, and only because I was an English major. I scream, stomp, threaten suspension of allowances, with an incredibly long grounding thrown in if they do not.

But you're right. If there's a teenager out there who speaks in the subjunctive, he's a real lonely fellow. Or has a dad who was an English major, and is anal about it.

ErylRavenwell
01-22-2007, 11:58 AM
I've yet to meet a teenager who speaks in the subjunctive, and I deal with a lot of them. (I live in the intermountain West, if that matters.) Were I to meet one, I'd remember it.

You've never heard a teenager say, "If I were you..."? Gimme a break. When googled "If I were you" returns 1.2 million entries, while "If I was you" only 419k.

Had I met one, I'd have remembered. Pluperfect subjunctive, not past subjunctive, which has nothing to do with the past. ;) (Or perhaps you're referring to the future, then you'll be correct.)

Jamesaritchie
01-22-2007, 07:14 PM
You've never heard a teenager say, "If I were you..."? Gimme a break. When googled "If I were you" returns 1.2 million entries, while "If I was you" only 419k.

Had I met one, I'd have remembered. Pluperfect subjunctive, not past subjunctive, which has nothing to do with the past. ;)

Yes, but "If I were you" is darned near a cliche, pretty much everyone says it without having the faintest idea it's subjunctive, and without a clue why it's "were" instead of "was."

I won't say I've never met a teenager who uses "were" correctly, but I will say I don't think one adult in five does, and it's darned sure certain very few teenagers do.

Google be damned. I know how teens actually speak, and how they score on grammar tests. "If I were you" has nothing to do with it, and isn't a fair test in any way.

moon&stars
01-23-2007, 02:20 AM
Why not just have him say what he means, "She never understands me," with the 'never' in italics? :)

ErylRavenwell
01-23-2007, 03:49 AM
Yes, but "If I were you" is darned near a cliche, pretty much everyone says it without having the faintest idea it's subjunctive, and without a clue why it's "were" instead of "was."

I won't say I've never met a teenager who uses "were" correctly, but I will say I don't think one adult in five does, and it's darned sure certain very few teenagers do.

Google be damned. I know how teens actually speak, and how they score on grammar tests. "If I were you" has nothing to do with it, and isn't a fair test in any way.


Well, when I'm speaking I'm hardly conscious of what tenses I'm using. It's not a matter of whether the teenager knows the subjunctive, it's a matter of influence (like you said your kids speak in subjunctive. The media, the teacher can influence them). Speaking can be quite an erratic process; it is dynamic as well. It could be a statistical issue. That's why I said the matter is trivial. I really don't know whether unconsciously I would use, "I wish she were more like...." or "I wish she was more..." The author of the thread was uncertain as well.

I'm not saying my argument is right, but the issue deserves more consideration.