The subjunctive preterit

English grammar (See all our English grammar tips)

Want to improve your English? Test our online English lessons for free!

The subjunctive preterit

The past subjunctive is used in the following type of constructions:
If I were you, I would talk to the manager.

It allows us to express a supposition, a wish, a desire (etc.), and is conjugated like the past simple, except for the verb to be:
Iwere(and not was)
Hewere(and not was)
Common constructions which use the past subjunctive:

•  after if:
If I were a rich man!
If I had more time, I would show you my office. (= If I'd more time, I'd show you my office.)
(would expresses the conditional)
If she were my girlfriend, I would buy her roses every day.

•  after the verb to wish, expressing a wish or regret:
I wish you were here. I regret the fact that you are not here.
Do you surf? - (No but) I wish I could. Do you surf? - (No but) I would love to surf.

•  after would rather, expressing a preference:
I'd rather you came another time. I would prefer you to come another time.
Horatio would rather people didn't know about his test monkeys. Horatio would prefer people not to know about his test monkeys.

•  after it's time:
It's about time Willy retired. It's time for Willy to retire.
It's high time that you and I had a chat about it.

Still having difficulties with 'The subjunctive preterit'? Want to improve your English? Test our online English lessons and receive a free level assessment!

Do you have smart way of remembering this rule? A tip to avoid making a mistake on 'The subjunctive preterit'? Share it with us!