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I have seen a sentence and there was:

He acted strangely, as though he was frightened.

Is "was" right for this sentence? Or must there be "WERE".

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Technically, you should use 'were'.

You are correct that the sentence is subjunctive because of the indefiniteness introduced by 'as though'. The subjunctive takes the plural form of the past tense of 'to be' as its auxiliary verb, even in the singular.

Having said that, many expert native English speakers will say 'was'. If writing in a formal context, it might be advantageous to use the 'correct' form. But it's not the end of the world.

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It depends whether the action is in the present or the past. If this is current action,

He acted strangely, as though he was frightened.

is the normal, straightforward way to put this.

If the action is clearly in the past, then

He acted strangely, as though he had been frightened.

might be the clearest form

He acted strangely, as though he were frightened.

sort of hovers between the two. It might suggest a continuing state of fright, while the "had been" form suggests a specific past event of fright. But this is a degree of nuance that many native speakers will not notice or respect in speaking or writing.

In informal speech, either "was" or "were" would be understood and acceptable for a present action, and probably for a past one also.

  • If it is a current action you wouldn't say "he acted", you'd say "he is acting". – anouk Mar 17 at 17:56
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    Subjunctive does not have any sense of time, so it does not 'hover' anywhere in between perfect and pluperfect. It is simply technically the right mood to use in the sentence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive_mood – fred2 Mar 17 at 18:02
  • @anouk one might. But particularly in literary descriptions of present action, one often uses what is technically past tense: "Then Jon entered the room. He acted strangely. He seemed drunk." – David Siegel Mar 17 at 18:05
  • @David Siegel - I'm struggling to understand how the simple past tense can ever be considered 'present action'. 'He acted strangely', etc, is, quite simply, past . I've heard of the historical present but not the present historical. – fred2 Mar 17 at 18:28

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