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Ian grabs Lili as she tries to leave.

Lili: Let go of me, you sociopath.

Ian: You think I'm a sociopath?

Ian smiles as if it is/were a compliment.

  • It should be 'were', right? Even though the sentence is written in the present tense?

  • Is the sentence written in a perfectly natural way? Could it also be: Ian smiles as were it a compliment.

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as if indicates a hypothetical situation so you should backshift the verb or, for is, use the subjunctive were.

You are therefore right, the subjunctive were is correct in your sentence. is is not correct because it's not backshifted. In informal English, you could backshift it to the past simple was.

were it... is grammatically correct, but very formal. While it can be used following as, the set phrase as if is very much more widely used, as this NGram graph shows. as were it a enjoyed a very brief blip of popularity around 1900, but at other times over the past 200 years its use is very uncommon.

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