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As though he were praying.

As though he was praying.

Which is the correct one? What is the difference?

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[1] As though he were praying.

[2] As though he was praying.

Both are correct and equally acceptable, so it is a free choice.

Some people call the “were” in [1] the past subjunctive. But that is quite wrong since it is not a past tense form of “be” at all, but a distinct mood form unique to “be” called ‘irrealis’, used to convey varying degrees of remoteness from factuality. Irrealis “were” is unique to “be” and limited to 1st and 3rd person singular. It’s an untidy relic of an earlier system and some speakers usually, if not always, use the less formal preterite (past tense) “was” instead, as in [2].

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Both are used:

As though he were praying.

As though he was praying.

However, some speakers consider the was form less acceptable in formal use.

Though the third-person singular form is usually was, the form were is used as a subjunctive form when referring to unreal or hypothetical conditions - including with the phrase "as though".

According to Oxford Living Dictionaries, the subjunctive is used (among other places) "after if (or as if, as though, unless) in hypotheses or comparisons", for example:

If that were so, things would be very different.

It was as if Sally were disturbed in some way.

His voice strained as though he were walking on a wire above a pit of sharks.

The site comments that:

The indicative may also be used, i.e. was instead of were, in all the examples above, but the subjunctive arguably conveys the hypothetical sense more forcefully.

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Were and was are both past forms of to be and most of the time can be translated from the present is/are to the past was/were.

This construction with as though means that the subjunctive form could be used, thus As though he were praying is correct. There are some constructions that require the subjunctive, e.g. Were he weary, he would not be walking so fast or If he were weary, he ..., where using was is not possible (to be correct grammar). In all other circumstances, such as this, was is an acceptable standard alternative to the subjunctive were.

In this case, either can be used. As though he were praying and As though he was praying are both acceptable.

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