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  1. #11
    Johnson_F's Avatar
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    I note that your member type is ‘academic’, Nikki. If you have access to a library, George Curme, one of Parser’s favourite writers, devotes some 40 pages of his Syntax to the subjunctive. Some of his views are decidedly dated, and few would now accept his view that modal verbs are part of the subjunctive system, but he gives a thorough analysis of what the subjunctive mood is.

    Curme, George O. (1931) Syntax, Boston: Heath, pps 390-430

  2. #12
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Thank you all! I think I've finally grasped the purpose and function of the subjunctive form. It seems like you all agree that it would be better to use the subjunctive form (as long as it is used correctly) when needed instead of just sticking to the indicative?
    Oh, and thank you Johnson_F. You summed up all the great replies so that it finally made sense to me.

  3. #13
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Thank you. I will see if I can find that book. Do you know if it is a common book in the uni libraries? Unfortunately we have a very sad selection here and I am trying hard to become familiar enough with the language to where I will be able to teach in the U.S.
    Do you know if there is a way I can look at all the posts from a certain member? I got a lot of great answers and it would be convenient if I could look up posts on other subjects from these people. Considering everything I need to learn, or become more familiar with, about English I think it would be easier to just look at old threads instead of posting a hundred new questions.

  4. #14
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by NikkiBarber View Post
    Do you know if there is a way I can look at all the posts from a certain member? .
    Click on their name above their message. A drop-down menu will lead to all their posts - or, at least, the last 500. And you can send them a PM, too.

  5. #15
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by NikkiBarber View Post
    I will see if I can find that book. Do you know if it is a common book in the uni libraries? Unfortunately we have a very sad selection here and I am trying hard to become familiar enough with the language to where I will be able to teach in the U.S.
    If you can’t get hold of Curme, try Celce-Murcia, Marianne and Larsen-Freeman, Diane (1983)The Grammar Book (2nd edn, 1999),Cambridge, Mass.: Newbury House. That should be easier to find. Pages 21, 632-633, 647 and 691 will give you an idea of how subjunctive forms are used in AmE. Although the treatment is rather shorter than Curme’s, it’s more up-to date

    It’s also a good book to look at if you are hoping to teach in the American system. The names of Swan and Quirk et al pop up regularly in this forum. They are, in their very different ways, very good, but they are British. Curme is American, but nearly 80 years out of date (sorry, Parser). C-M and L-F’s book is a very sound and thorough look at the grammar of English as it is understood in the USA.

    I am too British and stuck in my ways to use it much but, when I have, I have been very impressed with the ideas presented.

  6. #16
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by Johnson_F View Post
    Philo has already demonstrated how K's view on the absence of the subjunctive in other Indo-European languages can be challenged by facts..
    If you re-read, you will find I did not assert the absence of the subjunctive in other Indo-European languages.

    My German is all but forgotten, but I have studied many other Indo-European languages, and have taught them at universities and high schools.

    The assertion that the past perfects and past imperfects do not relate to the past (which was perhaps made by another contributor) is quite naive.

    The fact is, for conditions (as opposed to conditionals) we use the past almost without exception, despite obviously not referring to the past.

    If I was a rich man.... ya da da da da da da da da da da da da da da....

    This is consistent with many many Indo-European languages, particularly French, from which English has adopted most of its modern terminology and constructions.

    So in an if-clause, I remain unconvinced we're really dealing with a subjunctive.

    :)

  7. #17
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by NikkiBarber View Post
    If you have the time to explain the other if-clauses you mention I would really appreciate it.
    Essentially, there are two other types of if-clause:

    1. NON-PREDICTIVE conditionals

    As their name suggests, these differ from hypothetical conditionals in that, rather than assert one imagined state or event as the consequence of another, they present the content of the if-clause as something provisionally accepted as fact for the sake of argument, and forming the basis of, typically, a question, e.g.

    If you know so much about the subject, why don't you do it yourself?

    'If' here is similar in meaning to 'Given that...'.

    2. NOMINAL if-clauses

    E.g. that of

    I don't know if I should phone her.


    'If' here is equivalent to 'whether'.

    (Note that the 'or not' frequently added at the end of such sentences is quite redundant, since the existence of a negative alternative is naturally implied by the construction!)
    Last edited by philo2009; 15-Dec-2010 at 05:58.

  8. #18
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    konungursvia wrote:

    The assertion that the past perfects and past imperfects do not relate to the past (which was perhaps made by another contributor) is quite naive.

    I'm not sure who has made the assertion to which you refer here (one which is, in any case, meaninglessly incomplete unless one specifies whether one is referring to forms of the indicative or of the subjunctive mood), but the only vaguely similar assertion that I can recall having been made recently in this particular thread is that the underlined form of

    If I were a bird, I could fly.


    (a past subjunctive by the lights of any competent grammarian) does not refer to the past, but to the hypothetical present.

    This is consistent with the majority of I-E languages, whose 'past' subjunctives - having little/no actual referential relation to the 'past' whatsoever - are so called purely on grounds of morphological similarity to their indicative counterparts.

    The fact is, for conditions (as opposed to conditionals) we use the past almost without exception, despite obviously not referring to the past.

    If I was a rich man.... ya da da da da da da da da da da da da da da....


    I am uncertain of the distinction that you wish to draw here between 'conditions' and 'conditionals', but you are in any case missing the most vital point: the only distinctively indicative forms occurring in hypothetical second conditionals (as in the lyrics of the song above) - i.e. those in relation to which we can judge of their verbal mood purely on the basis of their form and without reference to privilege of occurrence/manner of predication - constitute those very cases which many educated (esp. AmE) users do not accept as good style or even as formally correct English.

    You might as well cite *between you and I as a basis for inferring that prepositions can legitimately govern nouns in the nominative case!

    This is consistent with many many Indo-European languages, particularly French, from which English has adopted most of its modern terminology and constructions.

    Quite wrong again! In terms of its basic structure,
    English, as any student of historical linguistics will tell you, is a thoroughly Germanic language. The only significant influence of French on English has been in terms of vocabulary. Its influence on English syntax has been close to non-existent.

    Thus, if comparative linguistics are to be brought to bear on the issue, I would refer you, once again, to the far more relevant German if-sentences recently posted.

    So in an if-clause, I remain unconvinced we're really dealing with a subjunctive.

    And yet, according to an earlier post of yours, you readily accept, it would appear, the existence of a present subjunctive in English, despite the fact that it also is relatively little used and also identical in form to corresponding indicatives in the majority of cases.
    Most perplexing!


  9. #19
    Johnson_F's Avatar
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    If you re-read, you will find I did not assert the absence of the subjunctive in other Indo-European languages.
    Sorry. I had your "If I were you" appears to bear no relation to any European concept of the subjunctive" at the back of my mind, and mis-used it.

  10. #20
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Part of the problem for some, whether we are talking about the subjunctive or not, is that we use ‘past’ tense forms to talk about present and future situations, both real and unreal.

    As I have suggested in other threads, the problem is alleviated if we forget the word ‘past’. Whatever was true of English in the past (= past time), and whatever may be true of other languages today, the tense system of modern English bears little direct relationship with time. The so-called present tense and aspects are used of situations that are seen as close: in time, reality and directness. The so-called past tenses are used of situations that are distanced or remote: in time, reality and directness.

    As virtually every writer on English grammar since Bullokar has used the labels ‘present’ and ‘past’, we are unlikely to change this, but it would be helpful to recognise that there is nothing inconsistent about using a ‘past’ tense to describe a future situation.

    I give below examples of the close/remote pairing.

    Closeness/Remoteness in:

    Time:
    I am driving to work this morning when this car suddenly pulls out of a drive with no warning. (Vivid, Close)
    I was driving to work this morning when a car suddenly pulled out of a drive with no warning. (Distanced in time, Remote.)

    Reality:
    If it rains tomorrow, we’ll have to cancel the match. (Possible = close in reality))
    If it rained tomorrow, we’d have to cancel the match. (Less likely = more remote in reality.)
    If it were raining now, we’d all be indoors. (Counterfactual; you can’t get more remote from reality than that. )

    Directness:
    I wonder if you have a moment. (Direct, Close)
    I wondered if you had a moment. (Indirect, Remote)

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