Writing books and rubbing elbows with other authors throughout the years has been educational, and I am so grateful that I want to pay forward. And the English language is so fascinating to me.
For instance there was a time when I didn’t know when to use “If I were…” or “If I was…” Marilyn Pappano taught me the difference!
Use the word were if you are comparing something to the subject that could never be. Like, let’s use the phrase, If I were you. I could never be you, so that’s when I would use the word were. Think of the song If I were a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning; I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land, etc. No, you couldn’t actually become a hammer, so in that instance the word were is appropriate. Now, what about the sentence, If I were honest, I’d tell you the truth right now. Is that correct? No, not really because I could be honest if I chose to be. The correct way to say it would be If I was honest…. What about this:
“If I was skinnier, I’d get in the dumb waiter and be able to ride up and down in it.”
Is that correct? Could I become skinnier? Yes, if I lost weight. But what about this sentence:
“If I was taller, I could reach that tree limb.”
Is it possible for me to grow taller? No, I’m an adult and my growing has stopped. So in this case I would have to say,
“If I were taller….”
So, whenever you start a sentence with “If” and do a comparison, think about whether or not it could actually happen to decide whether to use “was” or “were.”