Grammar Nazi tip of the day

Submitted by Dan Man on March 26th, 2010 at 3:48 PM

As the great Walter Sobchak once said, "are there no rules??!!"

If you are speaking about a hypothetical situation, you should use "if I were," not "if I was." This is called the subjunctive mood. For example: "If I were you I wouldn't neg-bang me just for passing along a helpful tip, though you probably will anyway."

There is a tricky distinction made in certain situations where "if I was" is correct, which is discussed at http://www.cliffsnotes.com/Section/Which-is-correct-if-I-was-or-if-I-we…. You use "if I was" when the statement is indicative about the past rather than hypothetical. For example: "If I was rude in offering my advice, then I will gladly accept your neg-bang." That statement isn't hypothetical, it is indicative.

Take care, and may you never split your infinitive.

-Biakabatookus

Comments

MGoShoe

March 26th, 2010 at 3:57 PM ^

..."If you were you I wouldn't neg-bang me just for passing along a helpful tip, though you probably will anyway."

be:

"If I were you, I wouldn't neg-bang me just for passing along a helpful tip, though you probably will anyway."?

I think that in your example, "you" is "you", so that's not hypothetical and therefore not fitting for the subjunctive mood of the verb, to be.

yostlovesme

March 26th, 2010 at 3:59 PM ^

I love the grammar nazi. I've gotten so bad at it that I recently bought a cd of one of my favorite bands, and I can't listen to it anymore after hearing track 4. The singer starts off, "I've gone days without food, I've went weeks without sleep", so now I wasted 10 bucks.

ChitownWolverine82

March 26th, 2010 at 4:01 PM ^

"If you were you I wouldn't neg-bang me just for passing along a helpful tip, though you probably will anyway."

Don't you mean "if I were you"? I'm pretty sure I am me. Unless....

jmblue

March 26th, 2010 at 4:00 PM ^

You are correct about "if I were/was", but as I fellow grammar freak I must note that there actually is no problem with splitting infinitives.

jmblue

March 26th, 2010 at 4:33 PM ^

A college professor should know better than that. The "don't split infinitives" thing was a weird 19th-century fad by people who wanted to make English as structurally close to Latin as possible. (In Latin, the infinitive is a single word, so it's literally impossible to split it.) For some reason, generations of grade-school English teachers in this country have wrongly taken that fad (which has long since died) to be some kind of a rule, and they have stifled student creativity in the process.

I'd love to hear someone try to claim that "To boldly go where no one has gone before" is grammatically incorrect.

pasadenablue

March 26th, 2010 at 4:56 PM ^

learning spanish helps with all of this. in high school, i learned more about subjunctive vs imperative, tenses, and objects in my spanish classes than i ever did in english. our english classes were more about discussing literature (with discussion topics stolen by the teacher from sparknotes) and making crappy movies and dioramas than, you know, learning english.

seriously, if you ever want properly learn english grammar, learn a foreign language.

blueblueblue

March 26th, 2010 at 5:00 PM ^

You lost credibility as a grammar nazi with the split infinitive claim. Plus, applying the was/were or other picayune grammar rules to message board conversation is a little self-serving. It's the low hanging fruit approach to feeling smarter than others, and, thus, less convincing.

Dan Man

March 26th, 2010 at 5:48 PM ^

I wasn't passing along this advice to feel smarter than anyone. I was passing it along because I see the subjunctive misused all the time, which makes me think that the rule is misunderstood. (Unlike some casual writing styles, it isn't much harder to type "were" than "was.") Maybe someone will take it to heart and won't misuse it in a professional situation where grammar does matter.

pdxwolve

March 26th, 2010 at 6:14 PM ^

and not about Nazi grammar.

I'm teaching Night (Elie Weisel) to ninth graders right now, and I had too many random grammar rules pop into my head in relation to this book.