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The subjunctive mood in English - once more with feeling

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The subjunctive mood in English - once more with feeling

Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:44 am

I couldn't resist scissoring this letter to the New York Times (it's short enough, I hope, to meet the guidelines) :

To the Editor:

I enjoyed reading "When the Doctor Is In, but You Wish He Wasn't." And I promise to be nice to my patients if you promise to use the subjunctive where you should: "but You Wish He Weren't."

Timothy E. Hullar, M.D.
St. Louis, Nov. 30, 2005


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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Dec 04, 2005 5:55 pm

Long live the subjunctive.

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Postby Apoclima » Sun Dec 04, 2005 6:07 pm

Sorry, folks! The English subjunctive is not long for this world. We will soon only see it only in old irrelevant books, or, perhaps, fossilized in soon to be meaningless phrases.

It will be seen by the generations of English speakers to come as an unfortunate mistake by a primitive delusional warlike people.

O, that it were not so!

Apo
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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Dec 04, 2005 6:31 pm

But I think the subjunctive in still in very good health in North America, especially after verbs like suggest, propose, recommend, ask, and related nouns and adjectives. I teach the subjunctive to advanced students and mark their papers wrong and correct their oral production if they fail to use it (which seldom happens, since we use the subjunctive in Portuguese too, and much more extensively and with a myriad of verb endings that I'm sure everybody has heard of).

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Postby Apoclima » Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:24 pm

BD:
But I think the subjunctive in still in very good health in North America, especially after verbs like suggest, propose, recommend, ask, and related nouns and adjectives.


I googled: "suggest that he go" -462 hits

"suggest that he goes" -859 hits

"ask that he do" -193 hits

"ask that he does" -440 hits

"propose that he be" -170 hits

"propose that he is" -581 hits

Shall I continue?

Although I do think there is probably a correlation between the perceived sophistication (formality) of a verb and its demand for the subjunctive.

More common everyday verbs would command less subjunctive:

to ask
to demand
to desire
to insist
to suggest
to urge

While more "high-falutin" words would show more:

to advise
to command
to recommend
to request

Also one would expect to see more "Fossilized English Subjunctive" in writing than in everyday speech.

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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Dec 04, 2005 8:37 pm

Oh, thank you so much for doing that. I've always thought that the subjunctive was more or less automatic in those cases and no one in North America would use the indicative there (that would probably be something interesting to research as well, did those results come from all English-speaking pages or from a specific country/region? Can you refine the search so only North American pages will be displayed? I don't know, the indicative looks so weird to me in those examples, maybe because of my Romance language background.

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Postby Apoclima » Sun Dec 04, 2005 11:03 pm

I honestly don't know how to refine the search to just North America. It would be interesting though.

To my ear, the lack of subjunctive (where I would employ it), sounds as grating as the double negative in English, but to be fair, the verbs listed above do not always take the subjunctive even in a conservative prescriptive grammar, so my results are somewhat skewed.

For example,

I propose that he is admired for his outrageousness.

I propose that he be admired for his outrageousness.

The first sentense meaning:

It is my proposition that he is admired (be so many people)...

The second meaning;

It is my proposal that he (should) be admired....

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Postby anders » Mon Dec 05, 2005 6:52 pm

I really should learn to distinguish between Swedish subjunctives and optatives. But by any other name, count me in the Subjunctive Fan Club.

Try http://www.alphadictionary.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=421&. I'm still undecided, though, as to whether the Num. 6:24 Hebrew יְבָרֶכְךָ jbarechna (?) is future, which would make the Aronitic Blessing "Herren kommer att..." (The Lord will...), or if it's intensive/iterative or causative or factitive or whatever.

Gorblimey, the vowels worked!
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Postby Flaminius » Tue Dec 06, 2005 12:58 am

Domine deus, but a consonant didn't work. jebarekka?
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Postby anders » Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:59 am

Flaminius wrote:Domine deus, but a consonant didn't work. jebarekka?

Of course. Mea culpa. My eyes shortened the upper part of the final, and I've forgotten most of the enclitic pronouns so I didn't realize my error.
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Postby Flaminius » Tue Dec 06, 2005 7:26 am

I hope your Hebrew writing software supports Biblical niqudot for a nun sophit.

BTW, a great comeback Anders
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Postby Andrew Dalby » Fri Dec 09, 2005 2:28 pm

I know what a nun is, but what's a nun sophit?
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Postby anders » Fri Dec 09, 2005 6:13 pm

Tks, Flam!
Flaminius wrote:I hope your Hebrew writing software supports Biblical niqudot for a nun sophit.

There are some other ways on my HD, but to be Unicode compatible, I just use Word: Insert: Symbol and go for something like Arial Unicode MS. All the dotty things are there. There will seldom be a need for me to write longer sentences on my own. For any extended passages, those would be Bible quotes that I copy from the 'net or my HD sources.
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Postby Flaminius » Fri Dec 09, 2005 8:39 pm

Andrew Dalby wrote:I know what a nun is, but what's a nun sophit?

Good question, maybe a sophist nun from Middle East? Alas, to discover the fact that it is merely the final form of letter Nun...

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Postby M. Henri Day » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:33 am

I don't - to coin a phrase - know (diddely) squat about sophisticated nuns from southwest Asia, but I do find the Table de caractères Unicode of great help with orthographical difficulties....

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