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Example:

"Do you think the neighbor killed the dog?"

"I don't think so. He would have barked. And even if that were the case, why hang him from a tree? It would've been easier to poison him or stab him."

Not sure if I'm wrong but the even if that were the case sounds overly formal to me. However, I can't think of a colloquial version.

Any suggestions?

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    – user230
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 13:54

2 Answers 2

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And even if that were the case...

This use of were is the subjunctive mood as it was previously taught to students of English, and a traditionalist may insist that it is the only proper construction after if in irrealis conditionals (where if asks about something that might or might not take place or be true.)

However, the subjunctive is declining in use in BrE and to a lesser degree in NAmE. It's hard to say exactly why the subjunctive sounds "formal" or "stuffy" to some readers and listeners, but that is certainly the case.

Many grammar books that are held to be authoritative now present this use of the subjunctive were as a choice, not a prescription. For instance:

On p. 235 of "Practical English Usage", Michael Swan writes:

We often use were instead of was after if. This is common in both formal and informal styles. In a formal style were is much more common than was, and many people consider it more correct, especially in American English.

Raymond Murphy, on p. 98 of "English Grammar in Use" (Cambridge) writes:

After if and wish, you can use were instead of was .... So you can say:

  • If I were you I wouldn't buy that coat.    or   If I was you ...
  • I'd go out if it weren't raining.   or   if it wasn't raining.
  • I wish it were possible.   or   I wish it was possible.

The upshot for a learner of English is: you can choose to use were in these instances, and if you do, you will be speaking or writing correct English. If you are writing something formal such as an essay or business proposal, it might be a wiser choice to use the subjunctive, but even then was is perfectly acceptable.

In everyday speech and writing, you will encounter both verb forms, and you may even occasionally be "corrected" for using was instead of were; but any language is used and created by its speakers, not by grammarians, and today either was or were is considered "correct", and the usage of were is declining.

In the case of the phrase you ask about, it could be written colloquially as:

And even if that was the case...

...or you might want to dispense entirely with were and was and write:

And even in that case...

...or dispense with the clause altogether:

And why would you hang him from a tree anyway?

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You can shorten it to even then:

"Do you think the neighbor killed the dog?"

"I don't think so. He would have barked. Even then why hang him on a tree?

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