"I hate it when he says as it were. It's so fucking pretentious and nonsensical."
She continued flipping the pages in her magazine as if though she hadn't just denounced a friend to no one in
particular. Well, I thought, people talk to their TVs all the time; she can talk to her magazine all
night for all I care.
But then, the Word being the virus that it is, I was forced to ruminate on her statement. He was, they were, you
were, it was!. Clearly a question was being formed at that instant in my feeble mind. As it were sure
seems to roll off the tongue a lot easier than as it was. The archaic ancestry of language gives us plenty of
such example phrases where, though they aren't technically grammatically correct, they sure sound alright to the ear.
The phrase comes to us in its present form as a shortening of the phrase, as if it were so or, as if it
were the truth. Now if we say, it were the truth, most everyone would agree that the phrase is
grammatically incorrect and well, it just sounds plain ignorant.
Hmm, I'm no English teacher and my grasp of grammar might just doom me to a lifetime with a subpar reading level, but I have the internet readily available to me, and I can do some simple research. As it were is an example of the use of the past subjunctive form of to be. This, coupled with the shortening of the original phrase, makes as it were technically and grammatically correct.
The website englishclub.com1 gives the following explanation :
We sometimes hear things like "if I were you, I would go" or "if he were here, he would tell you". Normally, the past tense of the verb "to be" is: I was, he was. But the if I were you structure does not use the past simple tense of the verb "to be". It uses the past subjunctive of the verb "to be".
In the following examples, you can see that we often use the subjunctive form were instead of "was" after:
Be sure to lace your speech with the phrase, because no matter how pretentious you sound you can be confident that you are completely justified in its usage. Also, you'll want to cut down your detractors with an obscure reference and witty comeback.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary :
In a manner of speaking; as if such were so.
Oxford English Dictionary :
Esp. in "as it were": as if it were so, if one might so put it, in some sort: a parenthetic phrase used to
indicate that a word or statement is perhaps not formally exact though practically right.
(as if it were), a qualifying phrase used to apologize for or to relieve some expression which might be regarded
as inappropriate or incongruous; in a manner.
- For a complete description of the subjunctive verb form, check out :