Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Proper usage of WERE vs WAS

There are a bunch of real time situations where most of us will not know whether to use 'WERE' or 'WAS'. Just to quote one for example, Let us consider Beyonce's latest hit song, "If I WERE a boy even just for a day...". Why could it not be "If I WAS a boy even just for a day..."?

It is said that "WERE" is used for plural (more than one) subjects and "WAS" should be used for singular subjects. I being a singular subject, why 'WERE' is being used then?

This is where the Subjunctive Mood comes in to picture. That is, using WERE for singular subjects is grammatically termed as 'Subjunctive Mood' (sometimes referred to as the conjunctive mood, as it often follows a conjunction). This mood is used to express a wish or possible situation that is currently not true. It's usually used with words like "if" and "wish".

As per the English Grammar rule is, "In the subjunctive mood the plural form WERE should be used with a singular subject; as, If I WERE, not WAS." For one's easy understanding we can say, "A person would use WERE when expressing feelings in cases which are not true"

In FORMAL writing, use WERE rather than WAS to express a state of affairs that is contrary to the facts:
I wish it WERE finished (but it is not).
Suppose it WERE true (but it is false).

Similarly for hypothetical conditions after if:
If John WERE here, he would know.
If it WERE to rain we should get wet.
He spoke as if I WERE deaf.

In all of the above, WAS is common in less formal styles. But even when you are not attempting formality, WERE is the only choice in inverted sentences like WERE these true, it would be very alarming.

From now on what ever you want to be, wish that you WERE a … and not you WAS a …