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Thread: Subjunctive

  1. #1
    Pokemon is offline Member
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    Default Subjunctive

    I'm starting this thread upon Fivejedjon's request. The problem to be discussed is whether 'should' is a subjunctive form or not when it's used in a construction like "Should you change your mind, let me know". To decide whether A belongs to class B, we need: 1)To describe the characteristics of class B; 2) To prove that A has or doesn't have those characteristics. Since Fivejedjon initiated this discussion, I think, it would be fair to let him/her be the first to speak. You are welcome, Dr.Fivejedjon.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    Since Fivejedjon initiated this discussion, I think, it would be fair to let him/her be the first to speak. You are welcome, Dr.Fivejedjon.
    I will happily join this discussion. However, it is now past my bedtime, so I waive any right you have given me to start the ball rolling, but thank you. I'll join you tomorrow.

    p.s.
    1. I'm a he/him
    2.I don't generally mention/question the academic qualifications of others, or use my own, in friendly discussions of this nature.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    To decide whether A belongs to class B, we need [...] To describe the characteristics of class B;

    I thought I'd start us off with a definition or two from a third party. They appear to have ended the discussion before it starts:

    SUBJUNCTIVE [...] A grammatical category that contrasts paricularly with the indicative in the mood system of verbs in various languages, and expresses certainty or non-factuality.
    Sylvia Chalker in McArthur, Tom (Editor), (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford: OUP.

    Chalker goes on to say (of the mandative subjunctive): [...] especially in BrE, it can be replaced by a should-construction.

    Chalker's use of replaced by suggests to me that she does not consider a should-construction to be a subjunctive form.

    Chalker says (of the conditional and concessive subjunctive): The alternatives are an indicative or a should-phrase. Alternatives

    MODAL VERB [...] A verb [...] such as must and should [...] In English such verbs have largely replaced the subjunctive mood. Greenbaum, Sidney and Palmer, Frank R in McArthur (1992). Replaced

    Quod erat demonstrandum.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Thank you, Mr.Fivejedjon. All you have convinced us of is that a few authors, Chalker, Greenbaum et al., share your opinion. But that doesn't throw much light on the problem as such.

    1. The definition of the Subjunctive Mood you quote says it 'expresses certainty'. i.e. by using this grammatical category we can vary the degree of certainty. But this is exactly what 'should' is doing in the construction being considered.

    Cf.: Should you change your mind, let me know.
    If you change your mind, let me know.

    It is quite obvious that due to 'should' the sentence acquires the meaning "the speaker views the future situation as possible though unlikely". In other words, 'should' affects the degree of certainty. Basing on the definition you refer to, 'should' is a subjunctive form.

    2. I think it would help us a lot if you were to clarify how you understand the relationship between:
    a) unreality and the subjunctive mood;
    b) modality and mood


    I would also like to invite the other party to this argument, Corum, to take part in the discussion.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    One at a time:
    1. The definition of the Subjunctive Mood you quote says it 'expresses certainty'. i.e. by using this grammatical category we can vary the degree of certainty. But this is exactly what 'should' is doing in the construction being considered. I agree.

    Cf.: Should you change your mind, let me know.
    If you change your mind, let me know.

    It is quite obvious that due to 'should' the sentence acquires the meaning "the speaker views the future situation as possible though unlikely". I agree. In other words, 'should' affects the degree of certainty. I agree. Basing on the definition you refer to, 'should' is a subjunctive form. I do not agree.
    "SUBJUNCTIVE [...] A grammatical category that contrasts paricularly with the indicative in the mood system of verbs in various languages, and expresses certainty or non-factuality." Chalker.

    For me, the subjunctive is found within the verb itself: If that be so, if I were you. As I have mentioned in other threads, recognisable subjunctive forms are so rare in modern English that I doubt the value of teaching the subjunctive at all. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I will accept that there is a subjunctive mood in English, and that my italicised forms be and were are subjunctive forms.

    There are (at least) three ways in English of indicating degree of certainty. They are, not in order of importance:

    1. Adverbs such as possibly, perhaps.
    2. The subjunctive
    3. Modals.

    That Modals and the subjunctive mood may do the same job does not mean one is the other.
    All you have convinced us of is that a few authors, [...], share your opinion
    I quote other authors, not to prove my point but to show that I am not alone in my views. Also, these authors make the point more succinctly than I can. (You may have noticed that I tend to become a little verbose). For that second reason, I will now quote Greenbaum:

    MODALITY [...]In syntactic and semantic analysis, a term chiefly used to refer to the way in which the meaning of a sentence or clause may be modified through the use of a modal auxiliary [...]. The term is also extended to include the subjunctive mood and the past verb forms used to express hypothetical meaning.

    So, I accept both the subjunctive and some should-constructions as expressions of modality, but I do not accept that should is a subjunctive form.

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    corum is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    I'm starting this thread upon Fivejedjon's request. The problem to be discussed is whether 'should' is a subjunctive form or not when it's used in a construction like "Should you change your mind, let me know". To decide whether A belongs to class B, we need: 1)To describe the characteristics of class B; 2) To prove that A has or doesn't have those characteristics. Since Fivejedjon initiated this discussion, I think, it would be fair to let him/her be the first to speak. You are welcome, Dr.Fivejedjon.
    This is the impression that an amateur (corum) managed to gain from his English self-studies, using books and the Internet plus the experience he gained in one year that he spent in an English speaking country.

    To me, subjunctive is a type of mood, a purely morphological category, a set of inflected verb forms used to denote, express, certain types of modality. Modality, a purely semantic category, is the taxonomic system of propositions created on the basis of whether they express possibility, contingency, necessity and many more things. As far as I know, the concepts that I directly named (possibility, contingency, necessity) are those -- no more, no less -- for which we use the subjunctive conjugational system of verb phrases.
    Now let us examine this sentence:

    Should you change your mind, let me know.

    The concept of contingency comes up in my mind. Why? In the first clause, in the subordinate clause, or if you so like, in the protasis, is expressed the condition upon which the fulfillment of letting someone know hinges. In other words, the act of "letting me know" is contingent upon one condition: you change your mind. You will either change your mind or not. The speaker does not know. As contingency is expressed, resort can/should be made to the subjunctive inflectional system. What is the verb (phrase) in the protasis? It is "should change". "Should" is a modal auxiliary verb. In this sentence, its auxiliary function unfolds in its putative meaning.

    The meaning of the protasis determines its mood. The type of mood determines whether resort can/should be made to the subjunctive inflectional system. Since 'should' is used putatively: subjunctive! In a complex verb phrase, it is always the operator whose form may change. In present subjunctive, the unmarked base form of the modal is called for.
    Last edited by corum; 03-Dec-2010 at 11:40.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by corum View Post
    To me, subjunctive is a type of mood, a purely morphological category, a set of inflected verb forms used to denote, express, certain types of modality. So far, reasonable enough.

    [...] Since 'should' is used putatively: subjunctive! An enormous leap.
    Does this mean that verbs in a clause containing 'possibly/perhaps/reportedly/etc' are subjunctive?

    In a complex verb phrase, it is always the operator whose form may change. In present subjunctive, the unmarked base form of the modal is called for. If it's unmarked, then it can hardly be subjunctive-marked. Besides, there are many who would say that should is the marked form of shall
    I will be surprised if he changes his mind.

    According to your line of reasoning, changes is subjunctive. But it isn't.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Thank you, gentlemen. As far as I understand, both of you agree that 'should' expresses here epistemic modality. Would you please answer the following question: Do you believe that modality can be expressed both grammatically and lexically or only grammatically? By the way, according to protocol, forum members following the discussion are welcome to ask questions to the opponents.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Do you believe that modality can be expressed both grammatically and lexically or only grammatically?
    In a wider sense of the word modality, yes. However, the original question was The problem to be discussed is whether 'should' is a subjunctive form or not when it's used in a construction like "Should you change your mind, let me know". I fear that we may get sidetracked into a discusssion on modality. This might not be totally irrelevant, but I hope we can all stick closely to discussing the original question.
    I'll take a break now until others have had a chance to catch up. Back tomorrow.

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Pokemon View Post
    The problem to be discussed is whether 'should' is a subjunctive form or not when it's used in a construction like "Should you change your mind, let me know".
    In form, no, but in meaning, why not?


    Jespersen O (1905). Growth and structure of the English language (Leipzig: B.G. Tuebner).
    Section 206, page 205:


    While the number of tenses has been increased, the number of moods has tended to diminish, the subjunctive having now very little vital power left. Most of its forms have become indistinguishable from those of the indicative, but the loss is not a serious one, for the thought is just as clearly expressed in “if he died”, where died may be either indicative or subjunctive, as in “if he were dead”, where the verb has a distinctly subjunctive form.

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