If I Was vs. If I Were

  ramyashankar  —  Grammar Tips
Was vs Were

As simple as that, in past tense, was is used for singular noun/pronoun and were for plural. For example, I was going to the market and we were going to the market.

If I was

This is a situation that could have happened. That’s because it has an ‘if’ clause. If the situation has happened, the result will follow. For example –
  • I apologize if I wasn’t clear.
  • If he wasn’t such a pain in the ass, we could take him along.
  • If I was good, why don’t you select me?
As a general rule, use If I was + adjective + present tense (in the then clause). Each sentence above is true or real and the then clause has the result of the if clause. For example, if I wasn’t clear (which perhaps I wasn’t) – so I apologize. Same way, he probably is a ‘pain in the ass’ and hence we wouldn’t take him along. The third one is a question. We can as well say ‘If I was good, then select me’.

Use ‘if I was’ for real situations that are in indicative mood.

If I were

Used in a subjunctive mood, ‘if I were’ indicates an unreal situation. Something that can never happen. You are imagining a situation, that isn’t true yet or cannot be true.
  • If I were Bill Gates, I would be the richest person in the world.
  • If I were wrong, I would correct my mistakes.
  • If I were invisible, I would steal a lot of chocolates from the supermarket.
Remember, these are hypothetical situations. In general, use If I were + noun + would

Some confusing sentences

If I was present, I would have taken care of the situation. – X (wrong)

If I Was vs. If I Were

The correct sentence should be – if I had been there – because this is a hypothetical situation.

If I was present, I would take care of the situation. – X (wrong)

The situation was not taken care of, so clearly the statement is not true. Hence, we should use ‘were’ and not ‘was’.

If I were present, I would have taken care of the situation – X (wrong)

Again, with ‘were’, you should use would take care of and not participle form (have taken). As a general rule, use participle with participle.

If I were a boy, I would happily roam outside all night.

If I had been a boy, I would have happily roamed outside all night.

There are two differences in the above sentences –
  • “I would happily” in the first sentence signifies a future hypothetical action. Though the situation is in the past (if I were), the (hypothetical) action is in future tense.
  • The second difference between above sentences is that “if I were” talks about a general hypothetical situation whereas “if I had been” talks about a particular instance, perhaps related to a context. For example – the sentence could be –
“I saw all the boys chatting and enjoying themselves, starting at the moon from the stable. That’s when it struck me – If I had been a boy, I would have happily roamed outside all night too!”

Hope this article helped you understand the difference between if I was and if I were clearly. Try these exercises to figure it out –
  • Good that she left the party, if she ____ not well.
  • If I ___ to be asked, I would pick the third book from the lot.
  • If he ___ present during the incident, he can put a strong case.
  • If I ___ late, I am sorry.
  • If I ____ you, I would not take the bus.

© Grammar.com