This Post Brought To You By the Letter C

Wednesday, September 05, 2018
The Unreal Conditional

The following is a real conversation I had with one of the Junior Halls. (Whose name shall not be divulged to protect the innocent.)

JH: If I was the President—

Me: Were

JH: (Continuing as if I hadn’t spoken) If I was the Presi—

Me: Were


Me: WERE. It’s were, were, were! (Followed by a somewhat boring, possibly lengthy explanation of why it’s were.)

However, I have several topics to cover here and I suspect that like my Junior Hall, you don’t really want the whole boring, possibly lengthy explanation of the conditional when dealing with the unreal or hypothetical. (That right there is a mouthful, isn’t it?)

Suffice it to say that I hear this construction used incorrectly often. People (besides the Junior Halls) want to use “was” when there are times when “were” is correct. So here is my short and delightful way to know whether to use “was” or “were” in the conditional:

Think of the musical, Fiddler on the Roof. In If I Were a Rich Man, Tevye rushes to finish back-breaking chores before the Sabbath begins. He sings of the day when he doesn’t have to work so hard, when he has one staircase leading up and another staircase leading down and still another leading nowhere. It’s a funny and yet poignant song because Tevye…well, Tevye is never going to be a rich man but a fellow can dream, right? So, if you are about to start a sentence (or clause) with “if” and you are going down a hypothetical or unreal path, think of Tevye and use were, please.

The Joy of Correspondence

Speaking of Junior Halls, I’m cleaning up around here because now, I mostly work in what was Mister Man’s office, and thinking I would paint, I took down all kinds of stuff from the walls in the upstairs office I once used. But the stuff that caught my eye—that I stopped to read once again—were the cards, the notes, the letters written by Mister Man, the Junior Halls, and friends.

Sometimes, I laughed out loud, because honestly, the Junior Halls are very funny. But I also teared up, because honestly, those Junior Halls, and Mister Man, and many of my friends, write the sweetest, spirit-lifting things. And here’s my point here: I am so glad that all these people that I love took the time to write.

Sure, it’s lovely to have a call, and a text is nice, too. But letters, notes, cards…oh, my goodness, what joy that brings to the recipient! So send a note. Add your heartfelt words to a card. Write a letter to someone you love. I promise you, that someone will save and treasure those words long after you’ve forgotten writing them.

The Importance of Continuance

No, I’m not talking about the legal continuance; I mean the quality of enduring.

Along with taking stuff from the walls (see above), I also cleaned out a few folders of writing stuff, notes I’d taken from websites and writers and such that obviously were important enough to save.

Oh. My. Word. Time and time again, I found these sites were defunct, that somewhere along the line in the last ten years (ten years!), it had all sort of…just…disappeared. So if you are a writer who has stuck with it, if you are still standing ten years on, I salute you! Because I am sure you have achieved goals beyond your wildest writing dreams, even if it doesn’t feel that way to you.

If I were the President, I’d give you a special Medal of Continuance. Because you deserve it! (And if you have a C-word-of-writing-wisdom, please share!)

~Cathy C. Hall (Who always spells her name with a C, thank you very much.)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--If I were thin...
If I were young again...
If I were more energetic...

I can think of all kinds of conditionals... ;)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Ahhh, yes. Me, too. Sioux. If I were a rich author, I'd just read all day.

On the other hand, I AM a poor author, and I do sit around reading quite a lot. (And correcting bad grammar as I read. :-) )

Margo Dill said...

If I were a bestseller...

That might have been the best explanation of the was/were issue I've ever seen. I'm not sure why Jr. Hall doesn't appreciate all that knowledge.

Must be something about having your same last name...

:) I never realized how smart my mom was until I was at least 30.

Pat Wahler said...

AS a lover of musicals, the comparison to Fiddler on the Roof is perfect. Well done, Mama Hall!

Michelle said...

If only grammar were as important to the many as it is to the few ... thank you. It's a mistake that always chafes.

Charlotte Dixon said...

C, you had me at The Joy of Correspondence. I have cards and letters from my childhood. People gone and some still living. I bring them out to visit with the hearts of treasured family and friends. I'm Coasting down memory lane :) Hugs sweet lady <3

Tina Cho said...

Good tip, Cathy! Thanks!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Margo, kids are strange and wondrous creatures. When kids are little, parents are the smartest ever and then kids get bigger and somehow parents aren't nearly as smart. Until yep, around the time kids have their own kids. And then it's a whole 'nother story. :-)

I'm so glad my musical reference helped, y'all! And I'm sorry if you've been singing "If I Were A Rich Man" all day long. :-)

Cathy C. Hall said...

And Charlotte, yes! Was cleaning nooks and crannies in desks and came across old, OLD correspondence. And then I felt twenty-something again.

It was kinda glorious. ♥

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

That "was/were" thing always snags me, just as lay/lie do no matter how often I break out the Chicago Manual of Style. There are some things for which I have a mental block, and unfortunately, those qualify! Thanks for another great post!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm with you on lie/lay, Lisa. Like most things I find troublesome, I just avoid it. :-)

Renee Roberson said...

Now that song is going to be stuck in my head all day! I love it! If I were NOT a writer, I wouldn't be so upset when my upset says things like "'There's nothing funner than fantasy football!"


Linda O'Connell said...

If I were a hoarder, I would collect more than every single card I have ever received. They really are treasures to me. Your posts are always helpful and delightful.

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