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As it were

I’ve heard people say “as it were” quite often. It doesn’t even sound wrong to me anymore. But shouldn’t it really be “as it WAS” instead, for proper subject verb agreement?

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Isn't it the subjunctive? Isn't it saying proposing a condition contrary to fact?

drewgmackie December 19, 2007, 5:39pm

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Wonderful Drew - there are at least two of us who remember the subjunctive!

semiotek December 19, 2007, 7:22pm

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If I were a bit quicker off the mark, I'd have posted the same comment...

Mark December 19, 2007, 7:29pm

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Gosh - it'll be gerunds next!!

semiotek December 19, 2007, 7:39pm

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True. That is subjunctive. I not a native English speaker. I learn English such that I know grammar.. Subjective is one of the most difficult parts of English to many non-native students....

monkey December 20, 2007, 12:35am

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This phrase is one of the cases where "were" is still required in the third person singular. In other counterfactual statements, we can use either "was" or "were", for instance
I wish I were/was going with you.
If I were/was stronger...

"were" is also required when it is inverted:
Were I stronger...
*Was I stronger...

And also when followed by another verb:
If I were to go...
?If I was to go...

John December 24, 2007, 3:49am

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"As" is a rare lead-in of the subjunctive. We are more used to the "if".

As though I were an authority on grammar, I post the above.
As it were, I suppose I could be.

lastronin February 18, 2008, 6:04am

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This case is one of Subjunctive Mood. When you use the subjunctive, you are referring to something that factually is not the case – as in "wish."

(My non-technical answer.)

rellimzil May 1, 2008, 10:00am

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The subjunctive is indeed incorporated into this expression. However, I'd suggest you treat this as a particular idiom along the lines of "so to speak."

JJMBallantyne May 1, 2008, 2:24pm

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Long live the subjunctive! ;)

BeeTee-Ess June 17, 2008, 3:12am

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Drew and semiotek, I know it too. I'm used to "if", "though", "though" without "as", "wish", and even "as" itself leading the subjunctive.

David Calman September 15, 2008, 9:05pm

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This one bothers me, too. I find the phrase "as it were" to almost always sound stilted, but then again, I am also bothered by "an historic".

jacka510 September 23, 2008, 2:47am

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'an historic' is probably stilted if 'historic' is actually pronounced with [h]. And maybe even sometimes if it isn't.

Some speakers have it naturally, though, with [h]-deletion conditioned by stress.

If stress is on the first syllable, [h] is pronounced, and 'a' thus appears as the article:

a history book

If stress is not on the first syllable, [h] deletes, and 'an' is selected:

an {h}istoric occasion
an {h}istorical novel

Potpourri November 10, 2008, 2:08pm

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I say "an historic", but I don't pronounce the "h". "As it were" is subjunctive. If you knew grammar, though, you wouldn't ask such stupid questions.

baseball205002 December 18, 2010, 7:50am

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In my own humble opinion, which could be wrong...

If you mean something like "so to speak," you use, "as it were". E.g. No rest for the wicked, as it were.

But if you mean like "something in the past", then you say "as it was". E.g. Life, as it was. or School life, as it was.

Cecil April 25, 2011, 7:51pm

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I wish I were an Oscar Meyer weiner.

Jeff July 25, 2011, 1:41pm

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Yip dip lip pip chip, as it were, don't ya know, I said, so to speak.

jingen August 17, 2011, 9:11am

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I often hear it used parenthetically, as if it means "as it turns out", or "as it happens to be", which is is not present contrafactual subjunctive.
Example: "He came, five hours too late, as it were."

Markustenhaafus October 15, 2013, 7:23pm

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Agreed it's not a present counterfactual, but it's often listed as a subjunctive fixed expression, along with things like: be that as it may, come what may etc

Warsaw Will October 16, 2013, 9:06am

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Yes     No