The phrases “if I was” and “if I were” are incredibly similar. It can be hard for many new learners to understand the difference, and it all comes down to the tense. This article will explore when to use each one and how not to get them confused.
What Is The Difference Between “If I Was” And “If I Were”?
You should use “if I was” when talking about something that presumably happened in the past and is most likely true. You should use “if I were” to talk about a hypothetical situation in the present or future that is not yet (and may never be) true.
The key differences here are the tenses used. “Was” is the past tense verb, where we’re talking about something that already happened. “Were” is also the past tense, but we apply it, in this case, to speculate about the present or future scenarios.
Is “If I Was” Or “If I Were” Used The Most?
We can use statistics to work out which of the two phrases is used most. Sometimes, this helps us to distinguish which phrase we might be more likely to come across.
According to this graph, both phrases are identical in usage. That means it’s likely that native speakers happily use both and understand the rules for them (even if they might not know exactly why).
Native speakers sometimes learn rules based on how a phrase or word sounds in a sentence. It’s clear when “was” is needed instead of “were,” and vice versa.
Don’t worry, though. Sometimes this isn’t the case. Many native speakers still use “was” when “were” is needed and make mistakes in speaking and writing. Most native speakers won’t mind, no matter which forms you use.
Examples Of How To Use “If I Was” In A Sentence
To help you understand the forms, the easiest thing to do is to show you them. We’ll provide some example sentences to help you understand them, and from there, you’ll be able to use them yourself.
“If I was” is used to speculate about past events that are most likely true. Sometimes, we might not want to admit that we did something or know whether we did it.
- If I was there when you said I was, wouldn’t I be in more trouble?
- If I was the one that told her, why is she crying to you?
- If I was at the party, like you say I was, I would have told everyone to shut the music off by eleven.
- If I was there, I don’t remember it!
- If I was the criminal mastermind behind this plan, why do you think I turned myself in?
As you can see, “if I was” is used to pass the blame or to avoid guilt or problems. Sometimes, we genuinely are innocent, and we use “if I was” to set up a scenario that tries to explain why we did or didn’t do a certain thing.
The “if” in the phrase is closely related to how we use “since” in English.
Examples Of How To Use “If I Were” In A Sentence
Let’s see when “if I were” is more appropriate. You’ll usually find that “if I were” makes more sense in most situations, as it talks about hypothetical future situations, which you’re more likely to come across.
“If I were” is mostly used to talk about hypotheticals. Since “if” sets up a hypothetical already, “if I were” is most likely going to appear in writing.
- If I were you, I would tell her how you feel before it’s too late.
- If I were older, I’d make sure to remind my kids not to rush their childhood!
- If I were the president, I’m sure I could do plenty of things to fix this country!
- If I were smarter, I’d help solve the problems that you face.
- If I were the king, I’d abolish the minimum wage and make everyone live like rich people!
As you can see, “if I were” sets up a hypothetical situation. We use it when we want to talk about something that won’t or can’t happen, but we still want to speculate about the things that might change if that were the case.
We can look to the future:
- If I were older
Or to the present:
- If I were you
We may sometimes even look to the past:
- If I were a kid again
Either way, we’re talking about situations and hypotheticals that we know cannot happen.
Why Do We Say “If I Were”?
We say “if I were” when we want to create a hypothetical situation. We’re trying to explain to somebody what we might do if we were in another position in our lives, but we’re not able to do that thing now.
We could say something like “if I were you” to a friend. In this case, we’re telling them what we would have done if we were in the same position as them.
We might also say, “If I were famous,” to talk about something we would do if we had an elevated social status. The context is irrelevant, as long as we’re talking about something that we know won’t happen.
What Is The Meaning Of “If I Were You”?
“If I were you” means we’re putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to tell them what we would have done in their situation. It might help to give them more perspective over a matter.
If your friend recently told you about someone they’re interested in, they might come to you for advice. They might not know the best ways to approach their love interest and want to know what you might do to help them.
You might say the following:
- If I were you, I’d tell her how you feel.
This creates a hypothetical situation where we’re the “friend” trying to talk to our new love interest. We’re telling them what we would do in their shoes if we had the chance to and that they should take the chance to do it because they are presented with the situation.
Can “If I Were You” And “If I Had Been You” Be Used Interchangeably?
“If I were you” and “if I had been you” are interchangeable, but only when used in the past tense. Otherwise, “if I were you” is related to the present and future tense, which “if I had been you” cannot be.
To help you understand this, look at the following:
- Correct: If I were you, I would not have done that!
- Correct: If I had been you, I would not have done that!
These situations relate to a past event that happened. Both phrases are interchangeable here.
- Correct: If I were you, I’d tell her how you feel.
- Incorrect: If I had been you, I’d tell her how you feel.
Here, we’re talking about a present situation. “If I had been you” refers to something that has already happened, which is wrong when we’re looking at it in this way.
Is “If I Were A Boy” Grammatically Correct?
“If I were a boy” is grammatically correct. We use it hypothetically to talk about things we might do if we were “a boy.” Usually, it’s said by girls or women, who know they can’t be a boy.
Was A Child Or Were A Child?
“Was a child” is correct when you’re talking about the past and the time when the third-person singular (he, she, it) or first person singular (I) was a child. “Were a child” is correct when you’re talking with any other pronouns (you, they, we).
- When he was a child, he was really naughty.
- When she was a child, I loved her.
- When I was a child, I didn’t know what to do.
- When you were a child, you were a handful!
Is “I Wish I Were There” Grammatically Correct?
“I wish I were there” is grammatically correct. We use “were” to speculate and create hypothetical situations. Since we weren’t “there,” we’re speculating and saying, “I wish I were.” “I wish I was there” is grammatically incorrect because we are talking hypothetically.
Is It Correct To Say “If I Was There”?
“If I was there” is correct to say when someone is talking about a past tense situation that is presumed to be true; however, they might not be able to prove it. We say “if I were there” when setting up a hypothetical situation.
- If I was there, I have no recollection of it.
Here, it’s presumed we were “there,” but we might not know ourselves.
- If I were there, we would have had fun!
Here, we are talking hypothetically about what may have been different if we had been there.
Is It If He Were Or Was?
“If he was” is correct when we want to talk about the past and confirm something that might be true. “If he were” is correct when we’re speculating about something that “he” can’t do.
- If he was there, he wouldn’t tell me.
- If he were there, things would have been different.
You might also like:
Wasn’t vs. Weren’t: Complete Grammar Guide (15+ Examples)
“If There Was” vs. “If There Were” – Difference Explained
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.