The eyewitness might become convinced that the suspect was carrying a knife, even if that were not the case.

Why in the above context there is "were" instead of "was"?

  • What does "modal remoteness" mean?
    – AR AM
    May 2, 2017 at 19:22
  • Modal remoteness means counter-factuality. In your example, the somewhat formal "were" expresses a fairly high degree of modal remoteness.
    – BillJ
    May 3, 2017 at 8:57

1 Answer 1


Generally, "xxx were ..." is being used even when xxx is representing a singular noun/pronoun if the writer knows:

  1. That the stuff after "were" is wishful thinking
  2. That the stuff after "were" is absolutely and undoubtedly false

Some people call this subjunctive mood. But generally, if the statement describes something that is not true in reality, a plural form of the verb to be can be used instead.

  • I need some simple examples in plain English to understand the answer better.
    – AR AM
    May 3, 2017 at 13:59
  • Say, if your mother died and you were thinking about her. You can say to yourself, "If my mother were still alive, all my problems would be solved." Or another simple example is "If I were you, I would blablabla..." (I know that I cannot be you).
    – Isa
    May 11, 2017 at 16:13

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