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She looks at me like I am a different person.

She looks at me like I were a different person.

I heard someone say the first sentence. It is an imaginary situation. What mood is appropriate here? Should not this usage call for subjunctive?

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    The first sentence sounds natural to me, although I'd always contract I am to I'm in speech. The second sentence sounds somewhat archaic. I'd never say it, myself. – snailcar Jun 30 '13 at 5:33
  • I wouldn't say either one, personally. I'd use as if I were. Also, to answer your question, I believe the usage calls for the subjunctive. After all, you're not a different person. – BobRodes Jun 30 '13 at 15:28
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I would say that sentence is in the subjunctive mood, so were is the correct verb.

The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to express a command, a wish, a suggestion or a condition that is contrary to fact.1 A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it expresses a condition which is doubtful or not factual, and is often found in a clause beginning with the word if, or in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.2

Your sentence certainly falls into that category; because the speaker is not another person.

As for the meaning of the sentence, I can think of at least two possible meanings:

She looks at me like I were a different person.

could mean:

She looks at me like she thinks I am somebody else. (perhaps I resemble an old friend of hers)

or:

She looks at me as though she wants me to change. (maybe she's glaring at me, because we've already discussed my drinking problem, and here I am, getting hammered again)

The first interpretation is not factual (I can't be someone else), and the second one conveys a wish (that I would be someone else – in other words, that I would behave differently). Either interpretation would be in the subjunctive mood.

While I was looking for examples of the subjunctive mood, the closest sentence I found to your example was this one3:

"In the night he awoke and held her tight as though she were all of life and it was being taken away from him." (Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls)

As others have said, you've used the word like, which could be replaced with as if or as though. Just because the sentence uses like instead of as if doesn't make the sentence any less subjunctive.

NOTE: This is a rather advanced topic, and this question might have been better for ELU, but I've done my best to address it here.

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    Interestingly, Hemingway used present subjunctive when talking about a past event. There is the plueperfect subjunctive for this case: "as though she had been all of life...". Otherwise there is no difference between the subjunctive clauses while in different tenses: "I am holding her tight, as though she were all of life" v "I was holding her tight, as though she were all of life." – Graduate Jun 29 '13 at 23:52
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I would replace 'like' with 'as if' in both sentences because the latter is more tranditional and therefore grammatical.

She looks at me as if I am a different person.

She looks at me as if I were a different person.

The first sentence implies that I am really a different person. The second one refers to an imaginary situation if I borrow your terminology.

  • This doesn't answer the question. The O.P. is apparently already aware of the possibility of using if. – J.R. Jun 29 '13 at 14:33

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