February 19, 2001

If I WERE a Rich Man
   by Merope

No, this PFFT! has nothing to do with my monetary status, or being a Russian Jew, or even a desire to change sexes (as I am, in fact, female). No, this PFFT! is about a little known (in English, anyway) rule known as the subjunctive. The subjunctive is a mood of a verb that should be used when the speaker is expressing a condition wherein something is contrary to fact (e.g. "if George W. Bush were smart..."). Regardless of the number of the verb (that's whether the verb is singular or plural), the subjunctive form of the verb 'to be' is 'were', not 'was.' However, it has been my experience that NO ONE KNOWS THIS. I've heard my teachers, professors, fellow peers, and even public speakers make this mistake. I receive brochures with slogans like, "If only college was this easy." For some reason, this particular grammatical error really grates on my nerves. So, please, fellow writers and editors, remember Tevye and his song "If I Were a Rich Man," and try to use the subjunctive. If you use it often enough, you can be a smug literary snot like I pretend to be.

Published: February 20, 2001
Editor: stacy

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