Conditionally Speaking










By Colleen Walsh Fong


If we really listened to what comes out of our mouths sometimes we’d speak with an eraser in hand. Lots of times I hear people say things that I know are wrong. And I know that they know the things they’ve said are wrong, too. They just haven’t heard what’s come out of their mouths. But it still hurts my ears.


Hearing educated people use bad grammar feels like hearing fingernails scratch a chalkboard. It makes a shiver run up my spine. One common mistake is using “could of” instead of “could have.” I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when that mistake is spoken. Lots of us fail to enunciate and swallow parts of words. So I assume the speaker is dropping the “h” of “have,” and not saying “of.” But when I see it in writing I really have no choice but to put it into the mistake column.


Another one that I hear surprisingly often is “I should have went,” instead of “I should have gone.” Ouch! I don’t know why that bothers me so much but it does and I find myself correcting people by saying, “Gone. It’s should have gone.” This is probably not the best way to win friends and influence people as Dale Carnegie famously said.


The worst part is I hear some mistakes so often that I find myself hesitating to use a word correctly just in case I’m about to say it wrong.


Take the use of “were” in a conditional situation. By that I mean saying, “If that were me, I’d do it.” I’m finding myself hesitating and sometimes even saying, “If that was me, I’d do it,” because I hear it said that way so often.


It seems like using “was” should be correct since “me” is singular and “were” is usually used with plural nouns like “we.” Right? No. It’s wrong. “Usually” is, as usual when dealing with the English language, the operative word here.


“Were” is correct in this sentence because it’s a conditional statement. I could go all subjunctive-were on you, or refer you to, but it’s easier if you just take my word for it. I’ve done my homework. Go ahead and check though if you need confirmation. And once you receive it please take heed of this rule. The more English speakers I hear speaking correctly the less I’ll hesitate to do it myself.


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