Which option is right?

  • Did you hear than George got on the basketball team?

  • If he ........ shorter, he wouldn't have.

    A) were to be

    B) has been

    C) had been

    D) is

I guess the right answer is A or C. But I cannot figure out what the sentence would imply if I chose one or another ? What would be difference ?

By the way I've read many websites on subjuctives.For example:

http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/grammar_subjunctive.html http://www.englishpage.com/conditional/wereto.html http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/subjunctive-verbs

  • 1
    A well asked question :-). C is the correct option and Sander already explained why. As for the difference with A - note that if you have this type of construction: modal + have + past participle in the main clause = he wouldn't have got on the team in the conditional clause with were to you would have to use have + past participle as well = if he were to have been shorter. For more information I recommend these two resources: dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/… and englishpage.com/conditional/wereto.html
    – Lucky
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 16:22

1 Answer 1


Sentences A and C:

You're dealing with an impossible situation here, so you need the subjunctive were.

  • If he were shorter, he wouldn't have.

Don't add to be to it. This verb would express a plan or something that the subject is supposed to be doing. The were would modify the to be and mean that it would be impossible for the subject to be expected/have planned to be shorter. Just were will suffice in your sentence.

The form had been can also be used to express this, since your verb in the main clause is in the past:

  • If he had been shorter, he wouldn't have.

The last one can also be changed to:

  • Had he been shorter, he wouldn't have.

About B and D:

You cannot use has been here. Not only does it not correspond with the tense used in the main clause, it would express that the subject has indeed at some point in the past been shorter than he is now.

Using is poses a similar problem: It also does not correspond with the tense in the main clause and it expresses that the subject actually is shorter.

  • Strictly speaking this is all true, but it's worth noting that many native speakers today often can't be bothered with the subjunctive (or aren't exactly familiar with it). So in addition to If I had been better educated, I'd have used the subjunctive (the "correct" way to avoid it), careless or casual speakers are also quite likely to just use simple past If I was clever, I'd have done it. Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:00
  • Most of us have indeed been shorter at some point in the past than we are now. Of course, that doesn't keep me from reaching the top shelf today. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 23:38

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