Grammar If I Was vs. If I Were |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

If I Was vs. If I Were

Whether in conversation or in writing, we have likely shared expressions such as “if I were you” or “if I was in your position.” We might also find ourselves shifting between “if I was” and “if I were” when making such statements.

In these cases, we have a 50 percent chance of being grammatically right. Some contexts will call for the expression “if I was,” and others will be precise by including “if I were.” In this discussion, we’ll look at how you can reinforce your grammatical mastery by knowing when to use either clause.

When Is It Correct to Say If I Was?

The main distinction between “if I was” and “if I were” is that one dependent clause is in the conditional tense and the other is in the subjunctive mood.

“If I was” is in the conditional tense, which conveys a possible scenario with a plausible speculative result. In other words, if you correctly express “if I was,” you will suggest that what follows is not impossible, even if it will not take place.

More specifically, “if I was” is a Type 2 conditional, which presents a hypothetical condition (i.e., not real or not happening) with a probable result. The condition is expressed in a dependent “if” clause in the simple past tense. The probable result is described by a main (independent) clause in either the present conditional or the present continuous conditional.

Examples

If I was the owner of the tire shop, I would focus more on product offers and marketing. (I am not the owner, but I could be theoretically, and this would be the likely result.)

If I was your next-door neighbor, I would insist that you mow your lawn more than once a month. (I am not your next-door neighbor, but I could be theoretically, and this would likely be the result.)

The scenarios need not always be theoretical. “If I was” can also express a past condition of the speaker.

Examples

I am truly sorry if I was unkind to you.

If I was asleep during the lecture, why didn’t you wake me?

These constructions typically follow the “if I was” clause with an adjectival descriptor, such as unkind and asleep in the examples above.

We’ll also find “if I was” in sentences that use the mixed conditional tense, which conveys a former time with a situation that extends into the present. It combines an unreal past or present condition with an unreal past or present result.

The “if” clause includes the simple past or the past perfect, and the main clause uses the present conditional or the perfect conditional.

Example

If I was [simple past tense] afraid of bees [unreal present condition; I’m not afraid of bees], you would not see [present conditional] me standing so close to this hive [unreal present result; I am standing close to the hive].

When Is It Correct to Say If I Were?

The expression “if I were” is an example of the subjunctive mood, which often resembles the conditional with an “if” clause. However, it differs in that it expresses a wish, supposition, or other theoretical prospect that is either impossible or highly unlikely as opposed to the conditional’s suggested feasibility.

To draw attention to its great improbability, the subjunctive alters proper verb conjugation. The simple past tense verb “was” in “if I was” changes to “were”:

If I were a mosquito, I’d try harder to leave people alone.

If I were a billionaire, I would help to fight world hunger.

If I were a wolfman, I would still want a good barber.

Here we have two impossibilities: I cannot and will not become a mosquito or a wolfman if I am not already one. In addition, as of April 2022, there were 735 billionaires in the U.S., or about 0.000002 percent of the population. Inclusion in that group is slim at best. The subjunctive “if I were” captures the far-fetched prospect of each scenario.

The next time you’re about to choose between “if I was” and “if I were,” simply consider whether what you’re going to say next is plausible (was) or implausible (were), and you will be precise.

Related Topic

The Subjunctive Mood

Pop Quiz

Make the correct choice of “if I was” or “if I were” in each sentence.

1. [If I was / If I were] to be there tomorrow, would you buy me lunch?

2. [If I was / If I were] made of gold, I would scratch myself and make you rich.

3. [If I was / If I were] eight feet tall, I might be able to see what you’re talking about.

4. [If I was / If I were] you, I wouldn’t stop trying just yet.

5. [If I was / If I were] the service manager, I would treat staff members as well as they treat our customers.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. If I was to be there tomorrow, would you buy me lunch?

2. If I were made of gold, I would scratch myself and make you rich.

3. If I were eight feet tall, I might be able to see what you’re talking about.

4. If I were you, I wouldn’t stop trying just yet.

5. If I was the service manager, I would treat staff members as well as they treat our customers.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *