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The women behaved as if they had realized that they had the courage to fight the men off.

Do you always use the past subjunctive in formal writing like here? Is this even the past subjunctive, or can the past subjunctive only be used with "were"?

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  • Where did you find that sentence? Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 3:50

1 Answer 1

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This sentence uses the past perfect, not the past subjunctive, as you suspected.

The main verb in the sentence is 'behaved', referring to something the women did in the past. At the time when they were doing it, they had already realized, at an even earlier time, that they had the courage to fight the men off. Their realization took place before the behavior that's being described.

If their realization had come at the same time as their behavior, you might write

The women behaved as if they realized that they had the courage to fight the men off.

A similar sentence using the past subjunctive might be

Had the women realized they had the courage to fight the men off, they would have behaved that way.

This is an example of the past subjunctive that doesn't use 'were'.

There is no requirement to use either the past subjunctive or the past perfect tense in formal writing. Neither tense is particularly formal, although they are not used as often as the simple past.

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  • You can't use if when using the past subjunctive? How come you're still using the same tense "had realized"?
    – Sayaman
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 12:21
  • I'm not sure I understand your questions, but yes, you can use 'were' in the past subjunctive. The past subjunctive is a tense, not a specific verb, although we mostly use 'were' and 'had'. In archaic versions of English other verbs were used more often.
    – dwilli
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 16:04
  • When I say, 'Had the women realized...', it means, 'If the women had realized...'. This is different from saying, 'The women had realized...'. You can use the same words and be using different verb tenses. Please let me know if that's not clear. When we say a conditional sentence without using 'if', that is subjunctive.
    – dwilli
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 16:08
  • oh ok, so you can't use "as if" to introduce the past subjunctive only "if"?
    – Sayaman
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 16:13
  • Still doesn't make any sense to me though. You don't need "would" to use the past subjunctive.
    – Sayaman
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 16:14

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