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Which of the following sentences are correct?

  1. If I was him, I'd buy a car later when I have money.
  2. If I was him, I'd buy a car later when I had money.
  3. If I was in her place, I'd ask the kids if they want another animal.
  4. If I was in her place, I'd ask the kids if they wanted another animal.

I think the second and the fourth ones are correct. But I'm not sure if the others are wrong.

1 Answer 1

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In formal use all of these require were for the condition (IF) clause, because they are all "counterfactual", conditions "contrary to fact": you are not him, you are not in her place.

You have correctly employed "I'd" (= I would) as counterfactuals in the consequence (THEN) clauses.

The tense in a subordinate clause is not necessarily determined by the tense of a main clause, so the "want" and "have" clauses may take either the present or the past form: depending on circumstances, the "facts" (having money later and wanting another animal) may be regarded as either doubtful or certain.

But in colloquial use all are acceptable.

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  • +1. Also, interesting NGram books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Matt
    Jul 12, 2013 at 19:26
  • @Matt Ayup. We don' need no stinkin subjunctive. Jul 12, 2013 at 20:08
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    @Matt: I think the "death of the subjunctive" is more marked than your NGram would suggest. Pupils probably still get "If I were you" drummed into them at school, so when they're writing (not speaking) they still tend to follow the outdated rule more than their natural inclinations. But change it just slightly, to if it were/was me, and we find the subjunctive already in "second place" - even in print. Jul 12, 2013 at 21:22
  • @Matt Well, I did this on Ngram and given that result, I wouldn't trust the relation between popularity and correctness. After all, if we go by majority decision, we have a gazillion flies who like to eat poo... Sep 19, 2015 at 16:39

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