If It Was Possible or If It Were Possible? Which is Correct?

Marcus Froland

Many of us have been there, scratching our heads and staring at the screen, wondering if our email sounds too formal or not formal enough. And then, it hits you. You’re stuck on a sentence that just doesn’t sound right. Is it “If it was possible” or “If it were possible“? Suddenly, what seemed like a simple task becomes an exercise in grammar gymnastics.

The English language is a tricky beast. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it throws you a curveball that leaves you second-guessing everything you thought you knew. This particular conundrum has tripped up many of us, leading to endless debates and confusion. But why does this dilemma exist in the first place? And more importantly, is there an answer that can put our collective minds at ease?

When deciding between “if it was possible” and “if it were possible”, the correct choice depends on the situation. “If it were possible” is used in hypothetical or imaginary situations. This form, known as the subjunctive mood, talks about things that aren’t real or are unlikely. For example, “If it were possible, I would fly to the moon.” On the other hand, “if it was possible” is used for situations that could have happened in the past or when you’re not sure if something happened or not. For instance, “I wondered if it was possible to finish my work by noon.” Remember, “were” for imaginary scenarios and “was” for real or uncertain past events.

Exploring the Subjunctive Mood in English

The subjunctive mood is a unique grammatical feature in the English language that allows speakers to express wishes, possibilities, conjectures, and hypothetical situations. This mood illustrates a speaker’s desired outcome, a conjecture, or a condition contrary to the current reality. Understanding and utilizing the subjunctive mood effectively can significantly improve one’s language skills and ability to communicate complex ideas.

What Is the Subjunctive Mood?

The subjunctive mood is a specific English tense and grammatical mood utilized to discuss hypothetical situations or scenarios that have yet to occur, might not occur, or are considered improbable. It is frequently used in conditional sentences, especially when discussing hypothetical scenarios with “if” clauses, or if-clauses.

The subjunctive mood often appears in complex sentence structures that include a main clause and a subordinate clause. The subordinate clause usually begins with “if” or “as if” and is followed by the verb in the subjunctive form. Examples of the subjunctive construction can be found in expressions like “If I were you” or “She acts as if she were the boss.”

Using “If It Were Possible” in Hypothetical Scenarios

One key phrase that exemplifies the use of the subjunctive mood is “if it were possible.” It is an excellent example of how the subjunctive construction can be used to explore hypothetical scenarios in which the given condition has either not yet occurred or is considered unlikely.

This phrase is employed to express the following:

  1. Wishes – “If it were possible, I would travel the world.”
  2. Possibilities – “If it were possible, we could finish the project in a week.”
  3. Conjectures – “If it were possible, he might have called by now.”
  4. Conditions contrary to fact – “If it were possible to turn back time, she would have made a different decision.”

Remember, when using the subjunctive mood in conditional sentences, it is essential to ensure that the verb form is correct and that the sentence conveys the intended hypothetical or contrary-to-fact meaning.

Appropriate usage of the subjunctive mood, including the phrase “if it were possible,” can significantly improve your English language skills and enable you to effectively communicate complex thoughts and ideas.

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The “Real” Versus “Unreal” Conditional Clauses

Understanding the distinction between real and unreal conditional clauses is crucial for proper English grammar usage. Both types of conditionals serve to express a causal relationship between events, but they differ in the degree of likelihood or certainty associated with the outcomes they describe. Familiarizing yourself with the characteristics of real and unreal conditionals will enable you to make appropriate choices when constructing sentences with if-clauses.

Real conditionals are used to denote events that have already happened, are happening now, or are likely to happen in the future. They describe situations where the speaker believes the condition is true or plausible. Real conditionals can be further divided into two subcategories:

  1. First conditional – refers to future events with a high probability of occurrence, and uses the present simple tense in the if-clause and the future simple tense in the main clause (e.g., “If it rains tomorrow, I will stay at home”).
  2. Second conditional – refers to present or future events that may be less likely or plausible, but still possible under certain circumstances, and uses the past simple tense in the if-clause and the conditional (would) in the main clause (e.g., “If I had enough money, I would buy a new car”).

Unreal conditionals, on the other hand, describe hypothetical, improbable, or counterfactual events that are either impossible or highly unlikely to occur. They are often used to express wishes, regrets, or alternative scenarios in which the speaker imagines a different outcome. Unreal conditionals can also be divided into two subcategories:

  1. Third conditional – refers to past events that did not occur, and uses the past perfect tense in the if-clause and the perfect conditional (would have) in the main clause (e.g., “If I had known about the party, I would have gone”).
  2. Mixed conditional – combines elements from the second and third conditionals to describe hypothetical situations that span across different time periods (e.g., “If I had studied more, I would be a doctor now”).

Real and unreal conditional clauses can be more easily identified by examining the tense used in the if-clause and the main clause of a sentence. The following table illustrates the different combinations of tenses within these conditional structures:

Type If-Clause Main Clause Example
First Conditional (Real) Present Simple Future Simple If it rains, I will stay at home.
Second Conditional (Real) Past Simple Would + Base Form If I had enough money, I would buy a new car.
Third Conditional (Unreal) Past Perfect Would Have + Past Participle If I had known about the party, I would have gone.
Mixed Conditional (Unreal) Past Perfect Would + Base Form If I had studied more, I would be a doctor now.

“If you had studied harder, you would have passed the exam.”

In the example above, the use of unreal conditionals with past perfect and perfect conditional tenses indicates that the speaker is discussing a hypothetical outcome different from what actually happened. By recognizing and applying these distinctions in tense and structure, you can improve your understanding and mastery of both real and unreal conditionals in English grammar.

How the Context Determines “Was” or “Were”

Understanding the appropriate use of “was” and “were” in context is crucial for conveying accurate meaning in English. The choice between these two past conditionals depends on the plausibility and context of the situation being discussed. Let’s explore some examples and the influence of plausibility in selecting the correct form.

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Examples of “If It Was Possible” in Context

If it was possible is used in plausible past scenarios or when the speaker believes that the event could have realistically taken place. The following sentences showcase the use of “if it was possible” in different contexts:

  • A friend could say, “If it was possible for you to attend their party, they would have appreciated it greatly.”
  • A teacher might state, “If it was possible for her to study abroad, her understanding of the subject would have probably improved.”
  • A coworker may comment, “If it was possible to finish the project earlier, our team would have been more relaxed.”

In each of these examples, “if it was possible” is used to describe plausible situations or past conditions that may have occurred.

The Influence of Plausibility in Choosing Between “Was” and “Were”

The speaker’s perception of an event’s plausibility plays a significant role in determining whether to use “was” or “were” in a sentence. While “was” indicates plausible past events, “were” is used to describe hypothetical or less likely situations. Here are a few examples to illustrate the difference:

If it was possible, she would have joined the meeting yesterday. (This implies that attending the meeting was a plausible event that could have happened under different circumstances).

If it were possible, she would fly to the moon tomorrow. (This example conveys that flying to the moon is a hypothetical and unlikely scenario).

The proper use of “was” and “were” depends on the context and the plausibility of the situation in question. Using the correct form helps convey the intended meaning more accurately and adheres to proper English sentence structure.

Common Misconceptions About Conditional Sentences

While learning English grammar, it’s common to encounter misconceptions about conditional sentences. These misunderstandings often stem from confusion between real and unreal conditionals, lack of clarity about the subjunctive mood, and difficulty in determining whether an event is hypothetical or plausible. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most common grammar mistakes related to conditional sentences and provide tips to improve grammar clarity.

Confusing real and unreal conditionals is a frequent conditional misconception. Real conditionals refer to events that have already happened or are likely to happen, while unreal conditionals describe hypothetical or unlikely events. Mixing up these two can lead to misunderstandings and unclear communication.

Example mistakes:

  • Mistake: If it was hotter, I would go swimming.
  • Incorrect: If it had rained, our crops were saved.

Correct forms:

  • Right: If it were hotter, I would go swimming.
  • Correct: If it had rained, our crops would have been saved.

Another common mistake is the misuse of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is used to discuss hypothetical scenarios, contrary-to-fact conditions, and other situations that are unlikely. It’s essential to use the subjunctive mood correctly to ensure English syntax is accurate and easy to understand.

Incorrect Usage Correct Usage
If she wins the lottery, she buys a new house. If she won the lottery, she would buy a new house.
If he spoke louder, we heard him. If he had spoken louder, we would have heard him.

Finally, determining whether an event is hypothetical or plausible can be challenging for English learners. The choice between “was” and “were” in conditional sentences often hinges on this assessment. It’s important to consider the context and evaluate the likelihood of the event to choose the proper form and achieve grammar clarity.

  1. Remember that “was” is used for plausible or real situations while “were” is appropriate for hypothetical or unreal events.
  2. Consider the speaker’s perception of the possibility before selecting “was” or “were.”
  3. Assess the context to gauge whether a certain instance is plausible or hypothetical.
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By understanding these common grammar mistakes, avoiding conditional misconceptions, and focusing on English syntax and grammar clarity, you can improve your ability to construct accurate and effective conditional sentences.

“If It Were Possible”: More Than Just Grammar

The phrase “if it were possible” is so much more than a grammatical construction. It functions as a powerful literary device that adds depth and complexity to narrative works. By employing hypothetical constructs and the conditional mood, writers can create alternative scenarios within their storylines, encouraging their readers to ponder the complexities of human choice and emotion.

The Literary Application of Hypothetical Constructs

Hypothetical constructs are a valuable narrative technique for authors as they create engaging and thought-provoking storylines. By imagining different scenarios or outcomes, writers can emphasize particular themes or character traits that might have otherwise remained dormant. Below are some notable manifestations of hypothetical constructs within a literary context:

  1. Alternative histories: These types of tales re-imagine key historical events and explore what the repercussions may have been if those events played out differently.
  2. Counterfactual narratives: Counterfactual narratives speculate on the “what ifs” of specific situations, creating alternate paths for their characters and readers to explore.
  3. Dream sequences: Dreamscapes allow authors to delve into the subconscious minds of their characters, revealing hidden desires, fears, or fantasies that would otherwise remain concealed.

When authors incorporate “if it were possible” scenarios into their work, they make their narratives richer and more multi-dimensional. These hypothetical situations open the door for endless possibilities, keeping the reader engaged and emotionally invested.

“In that moment, I wished, if it were possible, that I could change the past and make different choices.”

In the example above, the character is reflecting on mistakes they have made and expressing a desire to undo them. The use of the phrase “if it were possible” reinforces the sense of regret and futility the character feels, making their turmoil more palpable for the reader.

As seen through these literary applications, the phrase “if it were possible” extends far beyond grammar rules and into the realm of storytelling. By using hypothetical constructs and the conditional mood, authors can offer their readers intricate narratives that both challenge and entertain.

Applying the Rules: Practical Grammar Tips

Understanding and applying the correct grammar is crucial when using conditional clauses like “if it was possible” and “if it were possible” in your writing and speech. With the right knowledge of English language rules and some practical guidance, you’ll be able to recognize and use these phrases appropriately.

Start by studying the differences between real and unreal conditionals, as well as the role of the subjunctive mood in determining when to use “was” or “were.” Remember that “was” applies to plausible or past conditions while “were” is used for hypothetical situations. This distinction will help you choose the right form for your intended meaning.

Finally, practice using conditional clauses in everyday conversations and written texts, paying attention to the context and the plausibility of the scenarios you’re discussing. As you become more familiar with English grammar intricacies, you’ll find it easier to use and understand these essential language structures.

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