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if ... was vs. if ... were

9 Antworten   
Kommentar
I know there have been discussions in the past about the use of if xyz was ... vs if xyz were in BE vs AE, with AE usage more likely to favor were. In reading an article recently on uktrader.net, I was surprised to find both forms used and wonder now whether there is a subtle difference in BE between the two.


If, for example, I was to import something that incurs a 10% tariff

if a new tariff were to be imposed on the goods being exported into the EU27 from the UK, the additional cost will be covered by the UK exporter.

If a 20% tariff was levied on imported Dutch mackerel


I would have used were in all three cases and would have expected some level of consistency from someone who thought was was the preferred form. Someone is sure to set me straight.

Verfasserpatman2 (527865) 14 Jun 18, 02:29
Kommentar
Both forms are used (in the hypothetical sense, which these are), and as you have discovered, often by the same person indiscriminately. This, I may add, is a statement of manifest fact, not a recommendation. (I'd say 'were'.)
#1Verfasserescoville (237761) 14 Jun 18, 10:37
Kommentar
Agree with escoville.

"If I were" is correct when talking about a hypothetical (I think this is a remnant of the English subjunctive, but people who know grammar/history of language better might be able to correct me on that), but a lot of people say "if I was" – it is the kind of mistake that most people won't notice in speaking or in informal writing. In any kind of offical text I would stick to "were" though.
#2VerfasserMarie_53 (1159313) 14 Jun 18, 12:30
Kommentar
Just to make it clear, if we are talking about a past possibility, rather than a present hypothesis, then you must say 'was':

'If the engine really was left running, then that was rather careless.'
#3Verfasserescoville (237761) 14 Jun 18, 13:28
Kommentar
Täusche ich mich, oder ist nicht in der Form des zweiten Beispiels -- "if a new tariff were to be imposed" -- praktisch nur "were" anzutreffen (nämlich in der Wendung "to be to ...)?
#4VerfassersebastianW (382026) 14 Jun 18, 15:48
Kommentar
I would see a potential increase in the level of modal remoteness:
If (in the future) a tariff
 - is levied (open, not remote)
 - was levied
 - were levied
 - were to be levied
I would say
? was to be levied
in not generally acceptable, possibly because the form with "... to be" is the most remote, which conflicts with was (as less remote than were).
 
However, there is a lot of overlap, and it is complicated by
 (1) some sociolects that avoid "were" and some that avoid "was"
 (2) stigmatization of the modally remote was, and possible hypercorrection.
 
The complications can make it difficult, for instance, to work out what was really said in the case of indirect reported speech (as I think we once discussed).
#5VerfasserMikeE (236602) 14 Jun 18, 21:51
Kommentar
#2 Just to make it clear, if we are talking about a past possibility, rather than a present hypothesis, then you must say 'was': 'If the engine really was left running, then that was rather careless.'


When would the past perfect be appropriate? Only with a past hypothetical? "If the engine had been left running, that would have been rather careless."


#4 Not sure I understood the point. The first example also used the "to be to ..." format.


#5 The hierarchy of levels of remoteness is intriguing, but I wonder if anyone puts that much thought into it. The three cases presented in the article in question seem to be the same sort of hypothetical situations. Is it possible the author switched from was to were, not because the case was more remote than the other two, but rather because was to be levied actually made that case sound less remote? Or were the choices indiscriminate, as suggested in #1 and 2?


#6Verfasserpatman2 (527865) 15 Jun 18, 06:38
Kommentar
#4 Not sure I understood the point. The first example also used the "to be to ..." format.

You're right, of course. I guess my point was the clash between the past tense was and the form to be, which is necessitated by the passive voice but also conveys a sense of a very vague future possibility (MikeE's remoteness). 'if ... was imposed' is less jarring. (I'd still avoid it, however, because that past tense ersatz subjunctive*) (which as such does not refer to the past but to a present or future possibility) might be confused with an indicative past tense (which does refer to the past, see #3).

 *) Yes, MikeE, I know that's why you call it a preterite and not a past tense.
#7VerfassersebastianW (382026) 17 Jun 18, 02:45
Kommentar
Adding to MikeE's list of possibilities in #5 -- and noting, parenthetically, it's not what I would say, and I am not recommending it here for anyone else -- but many people say (and write): if a tariff would be levied ...

And I believe most people would not judge that to be incorrect. (Language purists excepted.)
#8VerfasserMartin--cal (272273) 17 Jun 18, 06:14
Kommentar
Martin, I also strongly recommend against the example you have just stated.

Better, though, would be "if a tariff should be levied ..." Better yet: "Should a tariff be levied, . . .."
#9VerfasserHappyWarrior (964133) 17 Jun 18, 06:48
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