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Grammar

As if & As Though Grammar Rules

As if & As Though Grammar Rules

As if and as though are used as conjunctions in sentences. We use as if and as though to make comparisons. They have a similar meaning. We use as if and as though to talk about an imaginary situation or a situation that may not be true but that is likely or possible. As if is more common than as though. Definition from (Cambridge Dictionary)
Examples:

  • She spoke to me as if/as though she knew me, but I had never met her before.
  • It looks as if/as though it is going to rain.
  • She cried as if/as though she was dying.

As if & As Though Grammar Rules

Using as if and as though in different Tenses

After as if and as though we often use a past tense with present meaning. This shows that the comparison is unreal. A present tense, on the other hand, shows that we are talking about real and possible situations.

  • Examples:
  • She talks as if/as though she knows everything. (Perhaps she knows everything.)
  • She talks as if/as though she knew everything. (But she doesn’t.)
  • He looks as if/as though he knows the answer. (Perhaps he knows the answer.)
  • He looks as if/as though he knew the answer. (but he doesn’t know or we don’t know whether he knows or not)

If we put the verb preceding as if/as though into the past tense, the present simple knows changes into past simple, whereas the past subjunctive knew stays the same.

Example:

  • He looked as if he knew the answer. (Consequently, the meaning of this sentence (whether he knew the answer or not) can only be deduced from the context.)

The past perfect subjunctive after as if/as though is used to refer to an unreal past situation. if the situation is true, we use a real tense to express past time.

  • He seems as if he hadn’t slept for days. (it seems that he hasn’t slept for days, but he (probably) has or we don’t know whether he has or not)
  • He seems as if he hasn’t slept for days. (he hasn’t slept for days)

Note:
When the main clause is in the past tense, we do not use past perfect after as if/as though to show that comparison is unreal. Instead, we use simple past in both clauses.

Example:

  • He looked as if/as though he knew everything, but he didn’t. (NOT She looked as if/as though she had known everything.)

Were instead of was

In an informal style, were is used instead of was in an unreal comparison. This is normal in American English.
Examples:

  • He looks as if he was rich. OR He looks as if he were rich.
  • Future
  • It looks as if/as though it is going to rain.
  • We took an umbrella because it looked as if/as though it is going to rain.
  • I’ve got so much work it looks as if/as though I’ll have to stay at home this evening.

Conclusion: Please feel free to ask your questions about as if & as though grammar rules and write your feedback using the comment section below.

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12 comments

Nicholas Castagnola April 10, 2020 at 7:01 pm

You’re Right in some aspects. Also, Consider the following rules:
. “Were” is used in formal contexts to talk about something that is not true in the present or something we are not sure is true, but probably is not. “Was” is actually the INFORMAL usage here as proper English uses “were” all the time. The reason for this is that all of those verbs in the past tense are not actually in the past tense; they’re in the past subjunctive. In English, only the past subjunctive of the verb “to be” can be seen and then only in first and third person singular: (I were, he were, she were, it were). The present subjunctive is easier to see (I be, he be, she be, it be).

For example:
If I were the ESL teacher, I would teach my students proper English. (this one is subjunctive as it talks about something that is unreal in the present.)
If I was the ESL teacher, why don’t I remember it? (this one is talking about some real situation in the past.)
If only he taught English better, his students would know more. (subjuctive: “taught”; not past tense)
I know he taught English as a second language for four years. (indicative: “taught,” i.e., simple past tense)

This is hard to explain because English has lost the present subjunctive form after most subordinating conjunctions except when someone is being overly formal, histrionic, trying to sound archaic, reading or speaking some line from an old work such as Shakespeare’s, or using an idiomatic expression that has fossilized the present subjunctive.

For example:
If truth be told, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. (idiom)
Be that as it may, I have a schedule to keep. (idiom of “if that be as it may be”)
Know all men by these presents (“Let all men know by these presents”; hortatory subjunctive)
Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine (“America the Beautiful”)
God be with you! God bless us! God shed his grace on thee! (fossilized form)
The defendant prays that this Court be moved to grant the motion. (supplication)
I demand that he do it at once! (a command)
It doesn’t matter whether he know. (whether usage)
I don’t care which one you pick — whether it be this one or that one. (whether usage)
As long as I be President, America shall be better off! (very formal usage)
Till death do us part. (fossilized)
It’s important that you be on time. (something necessary)
Whatever it be, it’s not human! (very archaic; now would be “whatever it may be”)

You can see how it once worked after “if” in these examples:
If Trump be re-elected, the U.S. will have four more years of prosperity. (possibility that this can happen)
If Trump were re-elected, the U.S. would have four more years of prosperity. (a condition this is unlikely or imaginary)
If Trump had been re-elected, the U.S. would have had four more years of prosperity. (Trump lost; imaginary in the past)

The present perfect subjunctive cannot be created in the above statement, but it’s not impossible in its archaic form, i.e., “If he have done everything we have asked, everything will be fine. (we don’t know whether he has done so; very archaic or even obsolete usage).

An instance of the present perfect subjunctive is possible in modern speech though. For example:

It’s important that he have finished his homework by Friday.
It’s critical that he have completed all of the necessary coursework before we allow him to teach.

Reply
Admin Learn ESL April 15, 2020 at 12:16 pm

Thanks for the additional information.

Reply
Rifa October 13, 2020 at 2:45 am

Could you please answer this?
You are talking as if I’m not here
You are talking as if i were not here
Which is correct??
Please answer

Reply
Muhammad Kashif May 8, 2021 at 1:02 am

Hi Dear,
When “had been” is followed by “as if”…
For example,
He acts as if he were a king (for present unreal situation)
He acted as if he had been a king ( for past unreal situation)
Is it true that we use “had been” with “as if” when we want to refer past unreal situation?
Regards,

Reply
Lev June 13, 2020 at 4:39 am

Swan writes that we CAN use the past tense to UNDERLINE the unreal nature of the statement. That to me is closer to the truth. I would use both of the following structures, and possibly more typically the present, in a counterfactual statement.

“He acts as if he’s the boss.”
“He acts as if he were the boss.”

I feel that with “like” the present is even more likely to be favoured.

I despair when grammars simply suggest one is counterfactual and the other isn’t. Perhaps the way native speakers use this structure is essentially wrong, but if almost all of us do it wrong, we need to find a way to explain it to students.

Reply
Dipa September 3, 2020 at 5:35 pm

He looks as if he has finished the test.
Isn’t this sentence correct??
Plzz…explain

Reply
Admin Learn ESL September 5, 2020 at 3:29 am

Yes, the sentence is correct according to grammar.

Reply
Rifa October 13, 2020 at 2:39 am

You are talking as if I’m not here
You are talking as if i were not here
Which is correct?
Please explain

Reply
Firat October 27, 2020 at 6:02 am

It looks as if he has cried again/ has been crying again. His eyes are all red and puffy. In this sentence(this is a cloze test) which one is correct and why? If both of them are correct then what is the difference in terms of the meaning, thx

Reply
Admin Learn ESL October 27, 2020 at 10:26 pm

Hi,
Both sentences look fine according to grammar and the meanings differ according to the tenses in the first and second sentence. He has cried again is present perfect tense and he has been crying again is present perfect continuous tense, that shows that something started in the past and has continued up until now.

Reply
Eman May 26, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Actually, all information about the use of as if and as though is really helpful and informative. I don’t deny I had to read it twice because the topic is not that easy for a non-native speaker of English or EFL learners. Thankfully, I can use both of these subjunctive conditional now. I can summarize it in some points:

*There is no semantical difference between as though and as if.
if we use past simple or past perfect in the second clause or the subordinate one, it indicates an unreal or hypothetical comparison. However, if any present tense used in the second clause, it refers to something likely to happen or may happen or not.
If we use past simple before as if/ as though, we need to use past simple in the second clause rather than past perfect

Reply
Elizabeth August 25, 2021 at 3:56 am

Hi Dear Admin,

could you please tell me what future simple after as if means. For example:

“The police are still looking for fingerprints left in the room. It looks as if they won’t find the criminal”.

Is it just about a future action? Or is there something to do with possibility and probability?

Reply

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