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Watch Your Language

Sing along with me.

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
That is what I truly long to be...ee...ee
'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
Everyone would be in love with me.


Wait, shouldn't that be: Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener...?

No.
Why?

Because it's a statement against fact. Even if you wish to be an Oscar Mayer wiener, you're not one. So it's a hypothetical situation, so the verb requires the subjunctive mood, were, not was.

Try this example, from "Fiddler on the Roof":

If I were a rich man
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum
If I were a wealthy man
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum
If I were a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work hard
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum
If I were a biddy biddy rich idle deedle daidle daidle man...


See?

Statement against fact = Hypothetical = Subjunctive mood were, not was.

I'm NOT a rich man, but I wish I WERE one.

Need more? Here's this from englishplus.com: A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it expresses a condition that is doubtful or not factual. It is most often found in a clause beginning with the word if. It is also found in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.

Incorrect: If I was you, I would run.
Correct: If I were you, I would run.

Incorrect: I wish he was able to type faster.
Correct: I wish he were able to type faster.

Incorrect: His requirement is that everyone is computer literate.
Correct: His requirement is that everyone be computer literate.

Incorrect: He recommended that each driver reports his tips.
Correct: He recommended that each driver report his tips.

Incorrect: If only I was taller.
Correct: If only I were taller -- and richer. :)

9 comments:

  1. Not against commenting. Just wasn't able to. Maybe now I can.

    Lovely grammar instruction.

    I DO wish I were a rich man.

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  2. W. Somerset Maugham said, "The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is to put it out of its misery as soon as possible."

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  3. Love it! Love it! Most English speakers don't even grasp this unless they study a foreign language. Subjunctive mood indeed carries semantic lading that makes it worth saving and explaining. You go, Girl! Subjunctive use is smart, sassy, savvy and thus, very sexy. Power to you for thoughtfully championing the obscure!

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  4. Thanks, everybody.

    Somerset Maugham is dead, but the subjunctive mood is not. Long live the subjunctive. :)

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  5. Alas, if only he was here to defend himself.

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  6. Agreed with Anon#2, that it's tough to grasp for those without foreign language exposure. Fluency in a Romance language thanks to a year abroad helped me in this category.

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  7. I'd love to hear you sing that song in person. HEY, maybe a concert is in order! Songs that make you laugh.

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  8. I just enjoy relearning our rule-bound language.

    ReplyDelete