The subjunctive preterit

English grammar (See all)

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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.

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