This paper illustrates how corpus research can inform language teachers and textbook writers about contemporary usage. This study provides evidence from various corpora, including a collection of language practice books and textbooks, and electronic databases that contain contemporary language data on how English is actually used. The data found in the electronic databases suggest that prescriptive teaching about the incorrectness of indicative was for hypothetical meaning in some contemporary English teaching books used in Hong Kong is not well founded. On the other hand, the data also reveal that subjunctive were is not dying and persists in writing, particularly in some idiomatic expressions. Copyright © 2006 Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.