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Summary Details

Query:   Sum: References on 'as if/though ...'
Author:  Sugayama Kensei
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Semantics

Summary:   A few weeks ago I sent out a query to ask for references about a
possible difference between 'as if' and 'as though' constructions in
English instantiated by the following.

(1) Tony writes as {if/though} he {were/was/is} left-handed.
(2) She looked as {if/though} she {were/was} ill.

I've received four replies. Here I would like to thank those who took
time to give me information, as listed in the following.

Izzy (Israel) Cohen (req-telaviv)<>
Mark Campana <>
David Houghton <>
Alessandra Bertocchi <>

Here is a summary.

Izzy Cohen gave a relevant part from the Random House Dict.

The Random House Online dictionary 1992 contains:
4. <as though> as if: It seemed as though the place was deserted.

Ironically, the same source also contains:
9. though: Strange as it seems, it is so.

So, not only does as if = as though, sometimes as = though.

Re: were vs. was (vs. is):
This is a question of whether the subjunctive should be used.
The same source advises:
subjunctive (suhb jungk'tiv) adj.
1. of or designating a grammatical mood
typically used for subjective, doubtful,
hypothetical, or grammatically
subordinate statements or questions, as
the mood of be in if this be treason.
Compare IMPERATIVE (def. 3
INDICATIVE (def. 2).
2. the subjunctive mood.
3. a verb form in the subjunctive mood.
[1520-30; < LL subjunctivus = L subjunct (us),
ptp. of subjungere to harness, subjoin (sub- SUB -
+ jungere to JOIN) + -ivus - IVE]
Derived words
--sub-junc'tive-ly, adv.
Usage. The subjunctive mood has largely
disappeared in English. It survives, though
inconsistently, in sentences with conditional
clauses contrary to fact and in subordinate
clauses after verbs like wish: If the house were
nearer to the road, we would hear more traffic
noise. I wish I were in Florida. The subjunctive
also occurs in subordinate that clauses after a
main clause expressing recommendation, resolution,
demand, etc.: We ask that each tenant take (not
takes) responsibility for keeping the front door
locked. It is important that only fresh spinach be
(not is) used. The subjunctive occurs too in some
established or idiomatic expressions: So be it.
Heaven help us. God rest ye merry, gentlemen.

Mark Campana gave his intuition:

I don't have any references on your question per se, but my intuitions
tell me that 'as though' can imply a feeling of suspicion - i.e. that
[the subject] is trying to be something that s/he is not. This
intuition is not as strong in the corresponding 'as if' construction.

David Houghton gave his intuition as well:

I don't know of any papers you might read concerning this topic, but,
for what it's worth, I can offer my intuitions as a native speaker.
It struck me as I contemplated the contrast that the sentences with
'as if' were better with some past tense form, and best with the
subjunctive form. Those with 'as though' were better with the
indicative forms. I cannot say that my semantic intuitions on this
topic are very firm, but it seems to me that there is a corresponding
contrast between counterfactuality with 'as if' and mere
hypotheticalness with 'as though'. If any or all of these
distinctions are real, I suspect they are not very strictly observed
in colloquial usage.

Alessandra Bertocchi made a little research and wrote:

I've made a little research myself to see the difference (if any)
between 'as if, as though' My point of departure is Latin 'quasi',
which is (apparent- ly) indifferently translated with both. 'Quasi'
refers to an unreal world in any case (for the speaker), which can be
real for the subject, in some cases. So I wonder whether this may be
the difference also between 'as if/ as though'. I have found only few
word on this matter in J.Haimann (1974), 'Foundations of language' 11,
p.353: "In at least one construction, there is no difference, even
aspectual, between the conjunctions 'if' and 'though':

Max spends money as (if, though) it was going out of style

I have also asked some native speakers, but no one perceives any
difference. The only one who feels that it is possible that they
differ (but he is not sure of it) is I.Sag. He wrote to me that 'as
though' seems to be more counterfactual than 'as if'. So Horn
suspension would give:

He speaks as if he were in charge, and in fact he is
? He speaks as though he were in charge, and in fact he is

But, to say it with Haimann, complete mystery surrounds the nature of
this construction. So, if you get more certain judgements and if there
are references, please, let me know.

- -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thanks again for the contributions and I'll let you know of further

Ken Sugayama

Kensei Sugayama
Dept of English
Kobe City Univ. of Foreign Studies
Department of Linguistics
University of Manchester

LL Issue: 8.892
Date Posted: 18-Jun-1997
Original Query: Read original query


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