Was and were

1 Jul

I continue to be amazed by the basic grammatical errors made by people who are reputed to be well educated. One of the most recent to make me cross was Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman of RBS – who graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford, with an MA in English, subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant and has an MBA from INSEAD.

On 16 June, The Observer reported: “Sir Philip Hampton…admits that [Stephen] Hester would still be in the top job [at RBS] if the plans for privatisation were not on the table. ‘If the privatisation wasn’t there, we’d be rolling on, probably looking for Stephen to have a successor (later) in 2014’.” No, Sir Philip, as The Observer’s reporter wrote, that should be “if the privatisation were not there…”. “If” should always be followed by “were”. Why?

The use of “if” indicates an hypothesis – something that, according to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, is “imagined, wished, demanded, proposed, exhorted, etc. Its main contrast is with the indicative mood. It is plainly recognizable in modern English…principally in the third person singular present tense…and in the use in various circumstances of be and were instead of the indicative forms am/is/are and was.”

Today’s picture

I visited my sister in the beautiful medieval town of Ludlow last weekend (the only problem was that the wi-fi and mobile reception at The Feathers hotel were also medieval). The weather was pretty awful too, but on Monday we went for a walk around the perimeter of the 11th-century castle where I photographed this beautiful beech tree. (I’ve promised to go back to see it in its autumn colours.)



One Response to “Was and were”


  1. Was and were | alswordsnpictures - July 1, 2013

    […] Was and were. […]

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