Was or Were?

“If I was in Maine, I’d be shoveling snow right now.”

Anyone who knows me knows there is zero chance of my doing any such thing.  I’d be inside, bitching and moaning about the miserable weather and pining for a warm beach.

Despite my lie, that sentence still should read, “If I were in Maine….”  Why “were” rather than “was”?  When a sentence is contrary to fact, use the subjunctive (did I just scare you?).  In its most simple terms, the subjunctive is the verb form you use that seems to be wrong.  We would never say, “I were in Maine last summer.” Of course we would use “was.” But in situations where the facts are otherwise, use the subjunctive:

“If I were king….” (but I’m not.)

As Tevya sang, “If I were a rich man….” (but he wasn’t.)

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