Today we have a GREAT question from a student who asked:
“Which is correct – if I was… or if I were…?”
The answer is that we use BOTH in English, but in different situations!
I’ll give you some good examples to make it clear.
If you sometimes find yourself frustrated by English grammar, the problem might be that nobody has explained it to you very clearly. When you look for grammar information online, it can just confuse you more.
Inside my Grammar E-Books, each lesson is clearly explained to make it as easy as possible to learn correct grammar and use it confidently. Click on the link to learn more and download those e-books – they also come with audio.
“If I were” – Imaginary situations
We use “If I were…” in imaginary situations – for example:
- “If I were an animal, I’d be a cat” – obviously I’m not really an animal, I’m just imagining it.
- There’s a song by Beyoncé called “if I were a boy” – she’s talking about what she would do if she were male instead of female; this is an imaginary situation, not a real possibility.
Here are some more examples:
- If I were you, I’d take that job – it seems like a good opportunity.
(I’m telling the other person what I would do if I were in their situation)
- I’d buy a house on the beach if I were rich.
(I’m not rich, but I’m imagining being rich)
- If I were taller, I’d join the basketball team.
(I’m definitely not very tall in real life, but I can imagine what I would do if I were taller)
“If I was” – Real possibility in the past
We use “If I was…” when we are talking about a past situation that was really possible:
- I’m sorry if I was rude.
(it’s possible that I was actually rude)
- I’m not sure if I was right or wrong to end the relationship.
(it’s possible that I was right to take that action, it’s also possible that I was wrong)
- If I was drunk last night, then you shouldn’t have let me drive home.
(it’s a real possibility that I really was drunk last night)
- My teacher always yelled at me if I was late to class.
(sometimes I was really late, and in those cases my teacher always yelled at me)
However, in casual spoken English, many native speakers are starting to use “if I was” even in imaginary situations, for example:
- I’m an administrative assistant. I’d make more money if I was a lawyer.
Technically, it should be “if I were a lawyer,” but the incorrect use is becoming more and more common when speaking informally.
- Use “if I were” for imaginary situations
- Use “if I was” for past situations that were really possible
Now if I were you, if I were an English learner, I’d practice this right away by writing two sentences – one with “if I were” and one with “if I was” to help you remember when to use each one correctly.
You can learn a lot more grammar quickly and easily inside my e-books, so don’t forget to check them out – I think you’ll find them really helpful!