Tag Archives: writing advice

“Was” vs. “Were”

I have a question. Please answer my question. Which choice is correct? A or B? and why?
A) If I were you, I would help the poor.
B) If I was you, I would help the poor.
Well, as you know both a) and b) are conditional unreal clauses . My friend says that educated people will never ever use option B) and that option B) is used just by illiterate people.  He says that in conditional unreal clauses, one should use only the were form of be no matter what the subject.
Do you agree with my friend? As an educated person, do you use WAS in your speeches and writings when it comes to the “if clauses” of conditional unreal clauses?



Your friend is both right and wrong.

Your friend is right that option A (“were”) is the correct usage. When using conditional clauses (such as beginning with “if”) and when the condition is unreal or imaginary, the correct verb form is “were.”

For example, “If I were a painter, I would paint my own house.” The conditional unreal clause is “If I were a painter.” It establishes a condition for painting my own house, and it is unreal because I am not a painter.

Your friend is wrong that educated people never use option B (“was”). They do, although the incorrect usage is more common in speech than in writing.

When people speak casually, they tend to use speech habits and not analyze their word usage carefully. Indeed, the value of habits is that we can act without conscious decision-making, but it can lead to problems, as well. I probably use “was” in speech sometimes, although I am far more likely to use “were.” In my case, the correct usage is a trained, consciously developed habit. Now, “were” sounds more natural to me than “was.”

The reason many people use the wrong form, particularly in speech, is that people tend to use language the way they commonly hear the language, particularly how they heard the language used in their early years. The result is that the “wrong” usage sounds correct and natural and they don’t realize that they make mistakes.

We see the same problems with usage of “data” and “staff,” for example.

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Diet and Exercise Plan for Your Writing

Does your writing have that bloated, overstuffed feeling? Do you have the habit of packing in more words than needed for clear communication? Are your readers easily fatigued by your writing? Do you send out your documents without first subjecting them to rigorous and strenuous editing? Do you run out of breath when reading aloud?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may have “fat writing.” It’s time to put your writing on a diet and exercise program. Most fat writing can be solved through “diet and exercise.” Dieting refers to removing unnecessary text. Exercise refers to revising for direct and clear communication.

Characteristics of Fat Writing

1. Redundancy

Redundant writing communicates the same information more than once, whether using words that mean the same thing or communicating the same concept in multiple ways.

Example redundant words: “The office was large and roomy.”

Example redundant concepts: “The company engaged in conservative spending. Company officers introduced a plan to achieve equal results with fewer expenditure.”

Prevention: Use an outline; keep common topics together; say it once well; remove generalities and focus on specifics.

After diet and exercise: “The office was roomy.” “Company officers introduced a plan to achieve equal results with fewer expenditures.”

Rule of thumb: If two expressions communicate the same information, one of them needs to go. Continue reading


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Coffee Is Wonderful! (in my opinion)

CoffeeIsWonderful!Coffee is a wonderful beverage. It has a pleasant taste, and it can help you wake up, think clearly, recover quickly after a strenuous workout, and lose weight. People who drink coffee feel good about themselves.

Not so fast, buckaroo.

Some of this may be true, but some is certainly an opinion. Here are the opinions:

  • Wonderful beverage,
  • Pleasant taste, and
  • Feel good about themselves.

Opinions creep into our writing easily, and they can damage our relationship with the reader. When you provide opinions, you don’t respect the readers’ rights to form their own opinions from the facts. In contrast, you create the opportunity for the reader to discredit your authority. Continue reading

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