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I encountered this sentence while wasting my time on twitter.

Literally no one would believe warm words about McCain from Trump were sincere so he’s better off not even making a pretense.

Assuming the above sentence is grammatically correct, I am puzzled by the use "were" and quite frankly is having a hard parsing the whole sentence structure. Is the "were" used here a subjunctive mood of "be", or is it used as the past tense of "be"?

The first half of the sentence seems to me a shortened version of "

If Trump said something warm..., no one would believe it is (were?) sincere.

i.e. second conditional/present and future unreal events. So I guess my real question is do we use subjunctive mood in the dependent clause of a consequence clause?

  • What is the source? – user3169 Aug 29 '18 at 1:39
  • Sorry, I can't provide the original link to the tweet as this is just some random stuff I jotted down while browsing. I honestly don't even remember the author but he/she is definitely a native speaker so I assume it is grammatically correct. – jxhyc Aug 29 '18 at 16:04
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I can't say the intention of the author, but I would say simple past as written:

Literally no one would believe...
(that) warm words about McCain from Trump were sincere...
so he’s better off not even making a pretense.

To make it subjunctive:

Literally no one would believe...
(that) warm words about McCain from Trump would be sincere...
so he’s better off not even making a pretense.

  • Which one makes more sense? I don't understand the sentence structure of the original, assuming it is correct. It seems to be a general observation of hypothetical general situation, rather than conterfactual situation from past. I fail to see the reason behind the use of past tense be. – jxhyc Aug 29 '18 at 16:14
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In your comparison using the singular it would be 'was', not 'were':

If Trump said something warm, no one would believe it was sincere. (not 'were')

Therefore it looks like this pattern does not trigger the irrealis subjunctive 'were'.

Actually the irrealis subjunctive 'were' in English has very limited use, pretty much just cases that follow the patterns 'if it were', 'suppose it were', or 'I wish it were'.

The original sentence is fine. A paraphrase could be:

If Trump offered warm words about McCain, literally no one would believe it was sincere. Therefore, it's better for Trump to not even make a pretense.

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