“Was” or “Were” in the “If” Clause/Conditional

Conditional sentences are used to express that something will happen if a certain condition is met. They can also be used to express that something will not happen if a certain condition is not met. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Given an independent and a dependent clause, which one is correct?

A dependent clause is a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence. It depends on the independent clause to make sense. In other words, an independent clause is a clause that can stand alone as a sentence:

If I were to marry you, I wouldn’t need to look at other women.

If this was the case, he would be in trouble (because he broke his promise).

a. If I was sad, I cry.

The verb in the if clause is past tense, so it would be was. The verb in the result clause is future tense, so it would be were.

The subjunctive mood is used for hypothetical situations or unlikely wishes and desires that are unlikely to happen; it is also used when making polite requests or suggestions: “If I were you…”; “If I were rich…”; “If only she were here today…” It’s also used in indirect speech when reporting someone else’s words: “She said ‘I wish I could go’.”

The conditional mood indicates a condition or supposition: “If they gave me more time then perhaps…”; “If he had been alone then maybe…”

b. If I were sad, I cry.

The “was” form is used for past tense, so if you are writing about a hypothetical situation that happened in the past, then you should use “was.” This means that this sentence would be correct:

  • “If I were sad, I cry.” In this case, we know that you aren’t currently sad because we’re discussing a hypothetical situation (you’re not currently crying). If we wrote it as “I was sad and cried,” it would be incorrect because it’s unclear whether or not the crying is happening right now or in the past.

The “were” form is used for future tense and therefore can only apply when talking about events that have not yet occurred but could occur at some point later on—it cannot apply to any event in the past whatsoever. For example:

  • “If he were honest with himself…” This implies that he hasn’t been honest with himself yet but might do so at some point later on; therefore, using “was” here would make no sense because there’s no way an event could have happened twice (once in the future and once in the past).

​Key Point: The “if” clause of a conditional sentence is the dependent clause (which can stand alone).

In other words, we use the “if” clause to express that a particular condition will lead to a particular result in the future.

Thus, when using “was/were” we must keep this in mind, because “was” is typically used with events that have already happened or are currently happening.

For example: “I went to school when I was young” or “I am attending school now.” To answer the question above correctly, we must select “B” because if we select “A” then it would imply that crying has already occurred in the past.

However, if our goal is to express that crying will occur after being sad in the future if something happens then we must use “were.”

So as you can see, we answered this question correctly because we kept this mind: “if I were sad…then I will cry in the future!”

The “if” clause of a conditional sentence is the dependent clause (which can stand alone). In other words, we use the “if” clause to express that a particular condition will lead to a particular result in the future. Thus, when using “was/were” we must keep this in mind, because “was” is typically used with events that have already happened or are currently happening. For example:

For Example:

I went to school when I was young.

I am attending school now.​

Conclusion

So there you have it! If you need any help with this topic or something else, feel free to contact us. We are happy to help!

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