I was running across this advertisement for an English language school on the subway this morning:

English fit for travel, as if you have your teacher with you.

This sounds somehow wrong to me. Shouldn't the subjunctive use the past form of have in this case, as in 'As if you had your teacher with you'?

  • 4
    Yes. Give that school an F in English. Jul 14, 2015 at 7:42
  • Well, it's one of the largest language schools around, so I'm a little flabbergasted how they could let such a mistake slip. Jul 14, 2015 at 7:55
  • @ComicSansMS Probably because the person designing the advert didn't attend that school? ^_^
    – Stephie
    Jul 14, 2015 at 8:09
  • 3
    Seems you are not the only one riding the subway: english.stackexchange.com/questions/259233/…
    – Stephie
    Jul 14, 2015 at 8:27
  • 2
    Yes, you are right. The commercial probably meant "had" here. For the situation would be one where the teacher is NOT there with you. The version with "have" has an open-type of interpretation: the speaker has no opinion as to whether or not the teacher is there next to you. The "had" has a modal remote type of interpretation, where the speaker does have an opinion, and it is that the teacher most likely is not there next to you. The past-tense of a verb is often used to show that modal remoteness. (reference: H&P CGEL, page 1152-3) :)
    – F.E.
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:00

3 Answers 3


This is a perfect example of something that is grammatically correct, yet highly unidiomatic. In other words, a native would never word it like this. Here are some options that I would personally prefer as a native:

English for travel: It's like traveling with your teacher.

English for tourists: It's like having your teacher as a tour guide.

English for travel: It's like taking your teacher on the road.

(I don't really like any of these either - the whole premise seems corny to me, but they're a lot more palatable than the original to my ear at least).

  • 1
    “English for tourists—like having your teacher in your back pocket!” Jul 14, 2015 at 22:16

It is grammatically incorrect, according to standard English. If I were in charge of that school (but I am not, so I wrote 'were' just then) I would fire the folks who came up with that setence.

Whether one calls it the subjunctive or irrealis is another thing. English does not have a lot of things that Latin has, or had.


This is a great question. I had to think about it for a while! AmE native, btw.

"As if you had your teacher with you" is definitely grammatically correct and sounds natural when spoken. If you're erring on the side of caution, certainly go with the "had" version.

If we venture off the grammatically correct path and wander a bit into the forest of sounds-okay-when-spoken-but-maybe-don't-say-it-to-a-pedantic-grammarian-or-put-it-in-a-term-paper, the "have" version might be acceptable as well. It somewhat accents the present-tense aspect of the phrase. It might connote the feeling "this course is so good it'll feel like your teacher is with you all the time, very much in the present".

Note that this feeling is by no means a hard and fast rule and different English speakers, especially the purists among us, might beg strongly to differ. However, in spoken American English, many good speakers might not bat an eye at the "have" version. Whether the English language company that wrote the ad put this much thought behind it or not is another question entirely.

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