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August 07, 2011


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It really helps me to know more about the subjunctive form even English is not my native language. Thanks, Lynn.


I have been cringing at TV commercials using "what if there were a place..." I am glad, and a little humbled, to know that I am wrong. Thank you!

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Ray. Thanks for letting me know this post was helpful to you.

Julia, I am grateful for the additional correct example you shared, and I'm glad you can stop cringing!


Val S.

Thanks for pulling this one out of the attic and bringing it to my attention. I never really thought about it because I don't have to use the subjunctive at work on technical documents. But if I were editing fiction, I would now know how to use the subjunctive!

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Val. Before writing about this topic, I checked at least five reference books. I was surprised that none of them had softened on the rule. Like you, I thought this subjunctive form might be something dusty I was dragging out of the attic. But it seems we still need to pay attention to it.

I see errors involving the subjunctive form in sample emails, proposals, and other documents clients send me. Nevertheless, I understand how it might not come up in technical writing.

As always, I apppreciate your comments.



I'm feeling a little skeptical about this one. I can understand (maybe) following this rule if you are a technical writer, but this really feels like an outdated rule.

Languages evolve over time and I think this is an example. It's just like ending sentences with prepositions.

But then again, I write in a very casual style for website visitors. I keep my sentences short and break up paragraphs almost at random just to avoid big blocks of text.

Business Writing at Word Nerds

Thank you for the informative post. I have noticed this problem when editing business writing in Australia.

Our main style guide has softened the rules on this and states: "In Australia the 'were' subjunctive is falling into disuse, replaced by the 'was' for ordinary purposes. This then makes the 'were' subjunctive a distinctly formal choice in terms of style."

I still apply the formal style, however, when editing business writing.

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Wes. I too write in a casual style at times. Yet I cannot bring myself to write "If I was you." The subjunctive has been in my blood too long.

Style guides do evolve, as language does. Their editors make decisions carefully though, so they are usually years behind what we see and hear in business. I think that's a good thing.

Thanks for commenting.


Business Writing Blog

Hi, Word Nerd. You and I agree. Thanks for telling us about the situation in Australia.


Randy Averill

This is extremely helpful for me; it's always caused me problems.

I agree with your answer for number 6, but differ with the reasoning. I would use "Were" because it's in the title of the song and you're using it as a title. If the title were, "If I Was A Rich Man" the title would be grammatically incorrect, but should still be quoted accurately.
Or am I wrong about that?

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Randy. You are not wrong.

I chose the song because many people are familiar with the title, which uses a subjunctive verb correctly. I am hoping the title will help readers remember the subjunctive form.


Mary Cullen

Hi Lynn,
Thank you for this post. It's the best summary of the confusing "If I were you" subjunctive-verb-with-if explanation I have read. I think your explanation is more clear than Gregg or AP ;-)

Business Writing Blog

Mary, thanks for the compliment. I am glad you liked the post.


Margaret Elwood

What an elegant and clear explanation! Thank you, Lynn.

Business Writing Blog

My pleasure, Margaret!



Thank your for this post.

How about "I wish she was/were...."? English is not my native language but I think I was told in school that "I wish she were" is correct, it also sounds better to me. The other form seems to be more common though.

"I wish she were" - 3.7 million Google hits
"I wish she was" - 8.6 million Google hits

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Marcus. "I wish she were" is correct.

Please don't use the number of hits in Google as a grammar guide!



Thank you so much you've helped me a lot!


Hi Lynn,

Thank you for this informative post.
Can I ask you if the following sentence is correct:

"If I were to live in a flat, I would have to give up my dog!"

"If I lived in a flat, I would have to give up my dog!" (This correct because it is the second conditional).

Thank you.


Business Writing Blog

N, your examples are both correct.


cheryl ehrich

Why be so complicated with this subjunctive business?? Who cares and who thought this up ?? I think the word 'was' will never be out of style. You can't go wrong using it 98% of the time. Talk about picky, picky.
If I 'was' there..
If she 'was' there...
These sound perfectly acceptable.

Business Writing Blog

Hi, Cheryl. You can certainly get by with "was" in most situations. But there can be times when knowing the subjunctive rule and following it would be helpful.

These days many jobs require strong communication skills. The ability to use the subjunctive form might be one of them.

I didn't answer your opening questions because I believe they are rhetorical questions rather than ones that require answers. I hope my assumption is correct.



Hey Lynn,

Thanks for this. How about 'Even if ... '? Even if Bala wasn't/weren't retired, he would spend more time travelling in Western Europe.

This is assuming that Bala IS retired, correct? So the right answer is 'weren't'?

Business Writing Blog

XN, yes, "weren't" is correct in your new sentence.


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