If I were to tell you that “If I was” and “If I were” should not be used interchangeably, would you believe me? Well you should, because they each have their own place in the English language, and it’s not just whichever one sounds good in the moment. Luckily, once you know the rule, it’s pretty easy to decide when you should “were” and when you should “was.”
If I were
Think of “If I were” as a hypothetical. It’s a wish, a dream, something you’ve imagined but didn’t really—or couldn’t really—happen. To get a little more grammatically correct, Reader’s Digest explains it this way:
You use the phrase “if I were…” when you are using the subjunctive mood. You may or may not have heard of this grammatical tense (it’s not taught very often in English studies when English is your first language), but you probably use it all the time. The subjunctive is used to talk about hypothetical situations or things that are contrary to fact.
“If I were a bird, I’d fly straight to the beach,” you might say. Or maybe, “If I were a little taller, I might have a shot at playing professional basketball.”
If you have a hard time remembering that “were” is the “hypothetical,” let the Fiddler on the Roof guide you:
If I was
“If I was,” then, should be reserved for the things that actually (or likely) happened.
“If I was using these phrases wrong, I’m sorry,” you might say. And it’s ok; I forgive you. But now you know better.