This sentence uses were and is fine.

"Should I tell her my feelings?" ~ "I wouldn't if I were you."

But then, in a conference, I'm telling my friend...

"If I was sick, I'd have surely gone by now."

Bon Jovi has the whole song on it - "If I was your mother."

My homework: I went through the selected answer here but, to be frank, I'm not utterly satisfied. Similarly, I read StoneyB's answer but he straightforwardly suggests using were in conditional events.

I think this question will have specific discussion about it and thus I'm posting it for the sake of clarity.

3 Answers 3


were is the subjunctive past of to be. Lucian Sava's answer explains the correct way to decide whether a given conditional calls for the indicative was or the subjunctive were. But the subjunctive is dying in modern English; most speakers don't use it consistently, reserving it for formal language (where it's often used incorrectly) and sometimes for set phrases like if I were you. That's where we get "if I was your mother"; Bon Jovi was not using the subjunctive, because the language was informal. On the other hand, an older woman berating you for your behavior is likely to say "If I were your mother" instead.


The confusion, in this case, arises from the fact that Jon Bon Jovi is from New Jersey.

Using "was" rather than "were" for the subjunctive is a feature of several American regional accents, including many working-class Northeastern accents. This is also why you might see a gangster in a movie say:

If I was you, I'd be more careful.

instead of

If I were you, I'd be more careful.

This also seems to be a general trend in American English, which has been bemoaned by proscriptive grammarians for a very long time.

Like many changing points of grammar, it also acts as a class marker. If you use the subjunctive correctly, you will be more likely to be perceived as educated and professional. If you do not, you will be more likely to be perceived as less-educated and working class. Unless you're a blue collar rock star, to be safe, stick with "were." But if you do use "was," everyone will know what you mean.


We should pay attention to context to know how to use “was” and “were”.

Both are used when expressing a hypothetical instance, the difference is that “was” is used when the instance is likely to happen:

If I was to instruct my son how to make his homework then, …

This is a hypothesis, but can occur.

If I were you, …

This is a hypothesis which can never happen.

Of course “were” can replace “was” and be used accordingly, while “was” cannot replace “were”.

So, your examples are correct and you can replace in your second example "was", as I mentioned, the sentence still being correct

  • but then... if I was your mother... also does not happen in any case.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:23
  • I don't know if it's correct: "if I was your mother". I'd use : "if I were your mother". Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:30
  • 1
    I agree, lyrics are not always reliable as a source of correct language.
    – user5267
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 16:29

You must log in to answer this question.

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