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Jane Straus - Oscar Meyer Wieners and the Subjunctive Mood

Oscar Meyer Wieners and the Subjunctive Mood


 
Jane Straus is the author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and Enough is Enough! and developer of GrammarBook.com

A reader asked the following: In this sentence, “If I were wealthier, I would travel around the world,” shouldn’t I be followed by was, not were, since I is singular?

 

Here is a roundabout but simple way to understand the answer, which is I were. Are you old enough to remember the ad jingle that began, "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener..."? This is an example of the subjunctive mood, which refers to the expression of a hypothetical, wishful, imaginary, or factually contradictory thought. The subjunctive mood pairs singular subjects with what we usually think of as plural verbs.

 

The subjunctive is used in certain "that" and "if" clauses.

 

Example: She requested that he raise his hand.

 

Normally, he raise would sound terrible to us. However, in the example above, where a request is being expressed, he raise, the subjunctive mood, is correct.

 

The subjunctive mood is losing ground in spoken English but should still be used in formal speech and writing.

 

Pop Quiz

Correct the verbs in the following sentences as needed.

  1. If I was you, I'd think twice before dropping out of school.
  2. Oliver wishes he was older so that he could drive.
  3. If I was stronger, I would have won that race.
  4. I wish Alberto was able to come to the party.
  5. If she was truly your friend, she wouldn’t talk behind your back.
  6. He wishes he was in a position to give his employees raises.

Pop Quiz Answers

 

  1. If I were you, I'd think twice before dropping out of school. 
  2. Oliver wishes he were older so that he could drive.
  3. If I were stronger, I would have won that race.
  4. I wish Alberto were able to come to the party.
  5. If she were truly your friend, she wouldn’t talk behind your back.
  6. He wishes he were in a position to give his employees raises.

 

Our Crazy Language

 

Why do we say that we’re getting on an airplane when we get into the airplane? 

Jane Strauss

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