1. a : What time do you usually get off work?
    b : It depends, but If I were to get off work early, I can.

  2. If I were to be born again, I'd like to be born in the states.

  3. If I were to be a journalist when I grow up, I'd like to write about music.

What does "were to " mean in these sentences?


For every verb in the language except one, you express a hypothetical conditional by using the past of the verb, so

If I come ...

is not purely hypothetical: I may come, or I may not; but

If I came ...

is hypothetical: I didn't come/am not coming/am not intending to come, but if I did ...

Exactly one verb has a special form for this, and that is be: the form used for a hypothetical conditional is were for all personal and numbers (rather than was for 1s and 3s). This special form is called "subjunctive".


If I am ready ...

is not hypothetical: I might be ready, I just don't know yet.

If I were ready

is hypothetical: I'm not, but I'm talking about the hypothetical case.

Your examples use the extended form if I were to [verb]. I don't see very much difference in meaning between If I got off work early and if I were to get off work early, or between If I were a journalist and If I were to be a journalist. Perhaps the latter has an implication that this was planned: "If I made arrangements to get off work early", and "If I made a decision to be a journalist", but there's not much difference. There's even less between if I were born again and If I were to be born again.


(1) does not make sense; could it really be 'if I want to get off work early, I can'? (2) and (3) use 'were' in the subjunctive form.

The subjunctive is a specific verb form. It usually expresses something that you wish for, or a hypothetical rather than actual situation:

If only I were ten years younger.

I only wish that what you say were true.

When to use the subjunctive

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