I am wondering which is grammatically correct out of 'If there were more time' and 'If there was more time' or, if both are correct, whether one is preferred?

I believe it ought to be 'were' as the clause is in the subjunctive mood, however 'was' sounds significantly more correct to me (as a native English speaker from England). So which is it?

Searching an exact match in Google for each gives 4 million results for 'were' and 10 million results for 'was', though Google searches are not the basis for proper grammar.

While other questions cover 'If there were' vs 'If there was', this example seems to be a special case for me and I am interested in the choice specifically in the construction relating to 'time'.


3 Answers 3


Please see the accepted answer in the duplicate target.

In short, both are perfectly fine, with some difference in style. In Present-day English, the preterit – e.g., did, stood, took, played – can be used to denote modal remoteness, and this has extended over to was as well.

However, there's a single vestigial form of be (were) for a 1st/3rd person singular subject which is used to indicate modal remoteness. There are no other such forms. Assuming you're talking about a non-factual/unreal situation, if there were/was more time means "if I had more time".

(Apologies for having no imagination in the examples below.)

Here are a couple of examples that try and clarify what's meant by real and unreal situations using the sentence in the question:

Unreal situation in the present:

Kim is working hard on their project, which they need to finish before the clock strikes noon. Kim glances at the clock, which shows 11.55 a.m.

Kim: "If there were / was more time, I'd be able to complete the project." (=but there isn't any time left)

Unreal situation in the past:

Pat: "Why did you get a B on your exam?"

Kim: "If there had been / were / was more time, I would've aced it." (=but there wasn't enough time)

Real situation in the present:

Pat enters the room and spots Kim and Bran playing games on Kim's PlayStation.

Pat: "Have you finished your project?"

Kim: "Nope."

Pat: "Wait, when's the deadline?"

Bran: "We've got until noon, I think."

Pat: "Have you given up? If there is / were / was more time, why aren't you working on it?" (=there's still more time)

Real situation in the past:

Kim: "We didn't manage to finish the project."

Pat: "Oh, when did you get home?"

Kim: "I don't know. Three maybe?"

Pat: "And when was the deadline?"

Kim: "At six."

Pat: "If there were / was more time, why didn't you finish the project?" (=there was more time)

  • I cannot upvote your response as I lack the reputation, but the dissecting of the cases is very clear. I'm not sure what modal remoteness is, however, nor a vestigial form.
    – Alex W
    Aug 13, 2018 at 22:21
  • @AlexW Don't worry about upvotes. Simplified, a vestigial form is the only surviving form of something larger (an entire system of forms in this case). Modal remoteness relates to modal, rather than temporal (time-related) meaning some verb form may express. Compare the words in bold in the following: 1) If you had enough money, we'd buy a car 2) I had a dog – note that they're both preterits, but only what's expressed in sentence 2 is situated in the past. Situation 1 is in the present, with had signaling modal remoteness (in this case counterfactuality) instead!
    – user3395
    Aug 14, 2018 at 0:11
  • That makes sense to me! I had assumed vestigial form was a specifically linguistic term I hadn't heard of but it appears to be a more general concept.
    – Alex W
    Aug 14, 2018 at 0:18

This is a bit of a complicated issue -- the English subjunctive is in a bit of a grey area in common usage, as it's been in the process of disappearing for quite a long time and is used differently in different dialects and registers. I suggest reading through this answer on English Language & Usage, which gives the topic a much more thorough treatment than I could give it here. The short version is that both are correct and which is more appropriate depends on the context as well as the speaker's personal preferences.

  • I cannot upvote your response as I lack the reputation. The link and information you gave were helpful. The other answer is more in-depth, however. When I attain the privileges I'll upvote you both.
    – Alex W
    Aug 13, 2018 at 22:19

Firstly the clause is not in the subjunctive mood, actually it is a conditional tense (IF).

The proper tense is ‘was’, ‘were’ is not necessary (no reason).

If there was more time, I would not be struggling to complete the task.

Unless you are to express (subjunctive) an ‘offset’ to prevent confusion in the if-clause:

If he were a nice guy, he would be helping you much.

The ‘were’ is used to prevent confusion for a dead subject (if ‘was’ is used) not for a reason of a non-factual. ‘IF’ is clearly a non-factual expression. It makes no sense to express a non-factual in a non-factual context.

When someone says ‘he was a nice person’ it means the person is no longer alive - it evokes a lifetime-effect of an individual level predicate (refer to Carlson Class).

  • 1
    He was a nice person does not mean that he's now dead. It just means that he's no longer a nice person . . . in fact, he still could be a nice person, depending on if there's more that follows. Jul 29, 2018 at 2:21
  • 1
    "If there were enough time" is indeed in what is known as the subjunctive in English. The conditional form of "to be" is "would be", not "were." Referring to the English subjunctive as conditional is going to be deeply confusing to learners, as those terms are used for different things in English grammar.
    – Sparksbet
    Jul 29, 2018 at 2:26
  • 1
    He was a nice person until something terrible happened to him and he became bitter and reserved. If he is not currently a nice person, you certainly do not say that he is. Jul 29, 2018 at 2:31
  • 3
    Well, that's just wrong. "were" can and is frequently used in that context.
    – Sparksbet
    Jul 29, 2018 at 2:47
  • 3
    Carlson classes are irrelevant to the question at hand and do not influence the fact that "If there were enough time..." is perfectly correct and proper in many if not most contexts.
    – Sparksbet
    Jul 29, 2018 at 2:58

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .