First, here’s a link to an excellent web article on the subject if you’d rather not read my ramblings.
My usual explanation of subjunctive mood involves “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye sings about what he would do if he were rich. Not if he was rich. It’s an impossible dream (which is a totally different musical, I know) he can never achieve, so he uses the subjunctive mood. Well, maybe not Tevye, but the lyricist. Thank you, Sheldon Harnick.
People get confused, though, and think that every time they use “if” they need to use “were.” That’s simply not how it works. “If I was older I would be eligible for more discounts.” I will be older, eventually. There’s nothing hopeful or impossible in that situation. I will be older, and I will get more discounts when I am. “If I was dead, I wouldn’t have to worry about grammar.” Nothing hopeful or impossible there, either. I will be dead someday, and when I am, I won’t have to worry about grammar anymore. Continue reading “Wishin’ and Hopin’ and Prayin’: The Subjunctive Mood in English”