In the sentence

If aging were programmed, then...

were is used instead of is or was or have been. Why?

  • 1
    I think by "uncountable noun" you were referring to the gerund "aging".
    – shawnt00
    Oct 20 '15 at 1:23

It is the subjunctive mood. It is commonly known that "aging" is not programmed. The second conditional here describes an unlikely situation in which "aging" is programmed. So, the special form of "be" is used, "were".


Thanks to Victor Bazarov for pointing to the subjunctive mood. What I found in Wikipedia:

The English subjunctive also occurs in counterfactual dependent clauses, using a form of the verb that in the indicative would indicate a time of action prior to the one implied by the subjunctive. It is called the past subjunctive when referring counterfactually to the present, and is called the pluperfect subjunctive when referring counterfactually to the past. It occurs in that clauses following the main-clause verb "wish" ("I wish that she were here now"; "I wish that she had been here yesterday") and in if clauses expressing a condition that does not or did not hold ("If she were here right now, ..."; "If she had been here yesterday, ...").

  • 1
    The classic literary (theatrical) example: "If I were a rich man" (Fiddler on the Roof).
    – Scott
    Oct 19 '15 at 18:35
  • "would indicate a time of action prior" isn't really accurate. Although there's some overlap in plural forms between present-subjunctive and past-indicative, the singular forms are frequently not the same.
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 19 '15 at 19:24

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