VERBS, AUXILIARY. Were, subjunctive use ofWere. What has been said above of be applies to were, that it is often used as the subjunctive where any other verb would not be so used, and indeed where the subjunctive is unnecessary or wrong, after "if," "though," &c., and in dependent sentences. In early authors there seems to have been a tendency to use should for shall, and were for be after "that" in subordinate sentences: "Go we fast that we were there." "Let us pray that he would." "My will is that it were so." In these sentences a wish is implied, and were, perhaps, indicates the desire that the wish should be fulfilled, not hereafter, but at once, as a thing of the past.
“I am a rogue, if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of them
two hours together.
“If there were anything in thy pocket but tavern reckonings,
I am a villain.
In some of these passages there may be traced, perhaps, a change of thought: "I am a rogue (that is, I should be), if it were true that I was not," &c. "What if we omit (what if we were to omit) this reprobate till he were well inclined?"
“What if we do omit
This reprobate till he were well inclined?
“Duchess. I pray thee, pretty York, who told thee this?
York. Grandam, his nurse.
Duchess. His nurse! Why, she was dead ere thou wert born.
York. If 'twere not she, I cannot tell who told me.
Comp. 2 Hen. IV. v. 2. 85; A. and C. i. 3. 41.
“If ever Bassianus, Cæsar's son,
Were gracious in the eyes of royal Rome,
Keep then this passage to the Capitol.
where the meaning is: "It is no wonder, then, that he was a traitor," and no doubt or future meaning is implied. Somewhat similar is an idiom common in good authors even now: "It is not strange that he should have succeded," for the shorter and simpler, "It is not strange that he succeeded." “Lamachus, . . . whom they sent hither, though he were waxen
“No marvel, then, though he were ill-affected.
now somewhat old.” N. P. 172. So, but with a notion of concession,
“And though (granting that) he were unsatisfied in getting,
Which was a sin, yet in bestowing, madam,
He was most princely.
So, beginning with certainty: “She that was ever fair and never proud.” Othcllo, ii. 1. 149. and ending with doubt: “She was a wight, if ever such wight were.” Ib. ii. 1. 159. In dependent sentences even after "know," as well as "think:"
“If it were so it was a grievous fault.
“I would I had thy inches: thou shouldst know
There were a heart in Egypt.
“Which of your friends have I not strove to love,
Although I knew he were mine enemy.
“Imagine 'twere the right Vincentio.
“As who should say in Rome no justice were.
“But that it eats our victuals, I should think
Here were a fairy.
“He will lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think truth
were a fool.