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In my grammar book I found the following.

He walks as if the whole Earth belonged to him.

And it says that second form of verb is used with as if

But at many places I have found usage of first form of verb with as if

He walks as if the whole Earth belongs to him

Which one is correct?

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3 Answers 3

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Both are correct depending on the tense.

Belonged is past tense and means he owned the earth before, but not necessarily that it belongs to him now.

Belongs is present tense and not necessarily that he owned the earth before. Or it could mean he owned the earth before and he still owns it.

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Both are correct and mean the same thing.

Regardless of whether the "as if" clause uses a Past or Present tense verb form, the actual reference is to a hypothetical situation (a "non-existent" alternative to the present, not to the past or future). But this is an interesting example where usage has changed significantly over time...

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I really don't think that switch in usage preference can have anything to do with different meanings for He acts as if he owned / owns [the place] being more common at different times in history.

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Both forms are correct though we see the first form too often.

Here the second form is preferable because it may mean that he really owns the whole earth, which is impossible for any human being.

In certain cases both the forms may be correct. For example, he speaks as if he is rich (probably he may be rich). He speaks as if he was rich means he is not rich but speaks like a rich man. Even if the first clause is in past tense we have to use simple past after. That is, we should say

He walked as if the whole earth belonged to him.

but not:

He walked as if the whole world had belonged to him.

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  • I don't see why you say "we see the first form too often" if you accept that both forms are "correct". It might require some careful setting up of a suitable context to make it credible, but there's nothing syntactically wrong with He walked as if the whole world had belonged to him. I don't really even need any context to set things up for He walked as if the world had fallen out of his bottom (facetiously, he'd eaten too much super-hot curry, which badly affected his guts! :) Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 17:31
  • @Fumble fingers i did not say that the first was wrong.But your sentence is wrong according to Michael swan you may argue but you can not find the usage Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 17:37
  • I wouldn't generally want to argue with Swan, but if you're telling me he thinks He walked as if the whole world had belonged to him is syntactically invalid, I would. Most likely you've misunderstood something. I have access to Swan's Practical English Usage - but not with search facilities, so if you can provide a section reference I'd like to have a look at what he says about this situation. Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 17:50
  • @Fumble Fingers. page number 74.please have a look at it Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 17:55
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    But Swan specifically says there we can use a past tense with a present meaning after as if. He identifies one possible nuance of difference that could apply (is the reference to something "unreal, definitely not true", or something "unknown, feasibly true"). But I don't think that's relevant to OP's example, since it seems pragmatically inconceivable that anyone ever has or will own the whole earth. Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 18:21

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