You know, attitude and personality seem to determine just about everything. It’s not reason, knowledge or logic. On a listserv populated by fl teachers, a discussion started that I was part of. At one point I mentioned that in my speech, formal usage required “If I were…” but informal usage allowed for either “If I were….” or “If I was….”

At one point, a person wrote and said “If I was…” sounded ’terrible’ to him. That’s the kind of thing that people often deny saying or deny meaning. So I asked him if that’s what he really meant to say, that my speech would sound terrible to him.

Here’s what I got back………………………………..


On Apr 22, 2008, at 1:06 AM, pbarrett wrote:

>Restatement in order:

>For me, in informal speech, ’if I was’ works as well as ’if I were’.

>In formal speech, I would use ’if I were’. That’s me. It’s a lot of


>In your speech, ’if I were’ is both formal and informal. There is no

>such form as ’if I was’ in your speech.


>Now, if my speech sounds terrible to you, then it’s good you can’t

>hear me. We’ve had some misunderstandings in the past, David, and I

>want to make sure I have this right: you did say that my speech,

>where I say ’if I was…’ sounds terrible to you. But it is

>surprising then, how many people have said they love talking to me.

>So I wonder if ’terrible’ is really the word you are looking for.

>It’s pretty strong.

Honestly… I’ve never heard you speak. I am not saying that _your_

speech in general sounds terrible to me. I think virtually anyone

reading this thread would understand that–it’s not such a terrible


Now _if_ I were to hear you speaking, and _if_ I were to hear you say,

“if I was”, I would cringe in precisely the same way that I cringe

when I hear _anyone_ say “If I was”, or “me and him”, or “John and

myself are”, etc. If you prefer a different term than “terrible,”

shall we try: “like finger nails on the chalkboard?” That is not how

my parents nor anyone around me as a child spoke in English. As a

child, were I to have said “If I was” I would have been corrected by

my parents and certainly by Mrs. Dowell, Mrs. Helley, and virtually

every English teacher I had throughout my elementary education.

In previous threads, I’ve come to the conclusion that one cannot

suggest that any utterance, no matter how “non-standard”, as long as

it is said by a a “native speaker”, can be referred to as “wrong”, or

“incorrect” on the list, so I elected to say “sounds terrible to me”

rather than “is wrong”.

And honestly, the fact that tens of thousands of people love talking

to you is simply irrelevant to the discussion at hand. You asked the

“survey” question regarding what you consider to be formal and

informal usage. I responded. “If I was” is not only _not_ informal in

my’s not a valid form. As I pointed out in my original

response, even Tevye doesn’t say “if I was a rich man.” There would

have been a perfect opportunity for the lyricists to match Tevye’s

language to an informal register if they had recognized that

distinction. Does the fact that thousands of people loved and love

Fiddler on the Roof validate my usage? I certainly wouldn’t claim that

it does.

So it’s not a valid form. Nothing about formal/informal usage, language variation, and so on. Unfortunately, many list members join in on this. Another member said my post “could imply” that I don’t want formal language used or taught. There is no way anyone could get this out of what I wrote in several posts on the thread, except………

There’s a lot to be read into this post but I wonít. I suggested that if so many people enjoyed talking to me, maybe my speech isn’t so terrible; he twisted that into a search for validation. And so it goes. The “sigh” says it all.

There really is a great divide. When I look across it, I don’t like what I see. And a good number of students reject this attitude; unfortunately, they tend to reject standard English along with it.

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