- On March 27, 2018
“If I was to walk away now, this caucus would be in such a musical chairs scenario.” That’s what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said recently in response to a younger generation of Democrats gunning for her job.
She should have started her musical chairs metaphor with, “If I were to walk away … .”
Pelosi was describing a hypothetical situation—the if clause is the tip-off—and a hypothetical situation calls for the subjunctive form of the verb, in this case to be. But when you use to be in the subjunctive in this scenario you always say If I were to, If he were to, and If she were to—never If I was to, etc.
While we’re on the topic of the subjunctive, you also use it after verbs that express doubts, wishes, recommendations, or requests, for example, His supervisor recommended that he take a writing class. Note how you say that he take not that he takes. Most people drop the s instinctively. Pelosi’s If I was to gaffe is the more common mistake.
But not for Tevye, the milkman from Fiddler on the Roof, who correctly sang, “If I were a rich man, daidle deedle daidle, daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb, all day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum if I were a wealthy man.”
And to think his first language was Yiddish!