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  1. #71
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by MrPedantic View Post
    It depends on the context and tone of voice:

    "Well, he certainly has brown hair and brown eyes. But so do several hundred thousand other males in Rio de Janeiro. Is there anything else to go on?"
    "He has something of a grammar habit. So if he were to turn left at the next crossroads, and head down to Marnie's place for another dose of phrasal verbs, it would be significant."
    "That's true. But I'm not sure we can wait that long. Anything else?"
    "I thought I saw something drop out of his back pocket. It looked like a past subjunctive to me. If you drew up by the hot chestnut vendor, I could take a look."
    "No time. We have to move fast. I need ideas, and I need them now."
    "Wait a minute. I did hear he once won a spelling bee in Wisconsin. So if he were indeed the man we're looking for -- "
    "He would have a Lazy T tattoo on his right buttock. Brilliant, MrQ. MrP, put your foot down. We're going in."

    Three second conditionals. In none of them does the protasis present a condition which the speaker believes to be unlikely or untrue.

    MrP
    Although I would actually dispute your final assertion*, these examples prove nothing directly relevant to this debate, since, from the point of view of grammar, there is no substantive difference between an act or state conceived of as unreal in the present and one conceived of simply as improbable in the future, as is clear from the fact that the same structural pattern (a second conditional sentence) can be used to express either.

    *I would contend that the speaker here, on the contrary, employs constructions necessarily indicating the belief that each of the various protases is either false or (highly) improbable. Whether hindsight or later developments happen to show those beliefs to have been justified is, needless to say, of no consequence as far as grammar is concerned.

  2. #72
    5jj's Avatar
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    So, I take it from this that that you do not intend to defend your position any further.
    Not so, neither. (Shakespeare).

    I am happy to ‘defend my position’ in any honest discussion.


    I am not, however prepared to waste my time on somebody who:

    constantly misrepresents what is written by others;

    considers that all ‘educated’ and ‘careful’ speakers agree with him, presumably dismissing those of us who disagree as ‘uneducated ‘ and/or’ careless’ speakers;

    arbitrarily dismisses ideas of two respected linguists as ‘frankly ludicrous’;

    arbitrarily dismisses the views of an Oxford Dictionary as ‘utterly absurd’.

    feels, without producing any evidence for the feeling, that if The Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford (an educated man, one would assume) writes something that philo disapproves of, then that Professor: “may possibly write it in, let us be charitable and say, an unguarded moment”.
    Last edited by 5jj; 18-Jan-2011 at 10:27. Reason: typo

  3. #73
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Not so, neither. (Shakespeare).

    I am happy to ‘defend my position’ in any honest discussion.


    I am not, however prepared to waste my time on somebody who:

    constantly misrepresents what is written by others;
    Allow me to assure you that, if any misrepresentation of views has occurred, it has been entirely unintentional.

    I do not, however, think it unreasonable to point out, perhaps by way of mitigation, that, while I have consistently and unequivocally stated my views (whether or not you choose to accept the premises or the reasoning process that underlies them) regarding the nature and status of the past subjunctive, I have, in the main, found your responses to be - with all due respect - vague and evasive to the point of exasperation, the overall impression created being one of either uncertainty or vacillation, with guarded statements of denial scattered here and there (of the type "oh, but I didn't say it wasn't X...but then I didn't say it was either...") and yet little if anything offered by way of a positive, systematic alternative position that would efficiently account for all aspects of good usage concerning hypothetical-counterfactual sentences.

    I feel that I have therefore been, to some degree, 'forced', through lack of clear indications one way or the other, into making assumptions about your views that may, in certain cases, have amounted to a distortion of them. Thus, while I may well be guilty of faulty surmise, let me reiterate that there has at no time been any intention to misrepresent.

    You will by now, I think, be amply aware that my position on this issue, revolving essentially around a fundamental point of procedural principle, can be summarized as follows:

    1. When classifying grammatical forms, we do so by analogy with standard forms sharing privilege of occurrence, i.e. those that enjoy complete/the widest acceptance among the educated native populace.

    2. As protasis-predicator in a second conditional, a distinctly past subjunctive form, 'were', enjoys universal acceptability, while a distinctly past indicative form, 'was', enjoys only limited acceptability in the same sentence position.

    3. Accordingly, any past-tense form that can be inserted into said sentence position should, according to normal analytical procedure, be reckoned a form of the subjunctive rather than of the indicative mood.

    As you can see, it is basically a straightforward syllogism, the conclusion following logically from the premises. If therefore, you wish to dispute the conclusion, you must disprove at least some part of at least one of the premises.

    You would, for example, need to argue convincingly that grammatical classifications are sometimes based on nonstandard or substandard locutions (e.g. that, because some speakers choose to say things like *between you and I, we could formulate a rule that prepositions govern substantives in the subjective, and not the objective, case), or that there exists any substantial sector of the native English-speaking population liable to reject a sentence such as

    I wish I were a millionaire.

    as ungrammatical, claiming that only 'was' would be correct here.

    Sadly, however, I have seen nothing in the way of any such systematic rebuttal, and, even after reading any number of your posts, am frankly none the wiser as to whether you consider a subjunctive mood to exist in English at all...

    Please note, incidentally, that I have no personal "axe to grind" concerning the acceptability of hypothetical 'was' per se. It may shock you to know that I even find myself saying it on occasion! However, I do not consider that any sounder a basis for a formal grammatical classification than I would consider the fact that people sometimes run red lights on quiet country roads to constitute grounds for an official revision of the highway code.

    I do not feel that any further exchanges between us on this topic are likely to prove fruitful, so, having once again presented the key points of my argument (one which, I contend, stands entirely on its own merits and therefore does not require the approval or validation of any famous grammarian or celebrity linguist), I leave those inclined to do so to weigh up the evidence for themselves and arrive at their own conclusions.
    Last edited by philo2009; 19-Jan-2011 at 09:56.

  4. #74
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    MrPedantic wrote:

    It may be true that some examples of the "If I were/was" construction would require context to disambiguate them, but that does not mean that the "If I were" variant of the construction is

    a) clearer in an absolute sense;
    b) more logical in an absolute sense;
    c) more precise in an absolute sense.

    (By what reasoning would you judge that one variant was more "logical" than the other, for instance?)

    Ultimately it matters little, since, of the two forms under consideration, only 'were' enjoys complete acceptability among speakers of all varieties of English throughout the world (the central point that you seem persistently unable, or else unwilling, to grasp).

    The point about relative ambiguity as defined in terms of degrees of context-dependency - as demonstrably true as it is - is of only secondary importance, and is probably of greater interest as a possible, or at least partial, explanation of the rejection by some speakers of hypothetical 'was' than it is as an objection to its use in and of itself.


    1. If I were you, I'd reconsider that decision.
    2. If I were you, I'd reconsider that decision.
    3. If I were you, I'd reconsider that decision.

    Which is the threat, which is the piece of friendly advice, and which is the attempt to defraud?

    I think you'll find you're confusing semantics with pragmatics...

    By the way, the fact that "was" is employed in place of "were" in such cases does not mean the mood is therefore indicative: the mood remains subjunctive even where the form is indicative.

    In MrP's patented homespun grammar system, perhaps!
    In the real world of English grammar, however, 'subjunctive was' is a simple contradiction in terms...

    On the other hand, if you are seriously suggesting that any past tense in this sentence position in fact is to be reckoned a subjunctive (by the lights, that is, of your interesting redefinition of the term), then you are - albeit for entirely the wrong reasons - confirming my most basic contention, for which I offer you my heartiest thanks!!

    Since I find it unlikely that any further responses on my part are likely to amount to more than repetitions of points already made many times over, I think shall now take my leave of this delightful thread and move on to pastures new.

    Au revoir!


    EOC






  5. #75
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    from the point of view of grammar, there is no substantive difference between an act or state conceived of as unreal in the present and one conceived of simply as improbable in the future, as is clear from the fact that the same structural pattern (a second conditional sentence) can be used to express either.
    Suppose we take this sentence:

    1. If you took the second on the left, you'd avoid the worst of the traffic.

    Would that also present an act that is "unreal in the present" and "improbable in the future", in your view?

    Best wishes,

    MrP
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  6. #76
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    It would be as well to deal with the earlier misleading implication that the 2nd conditional always expresses conditions that the speaker regards as improbable.

    Here, for example, the structure is used to present not an improbable action, but a suggestion:

    1. If you took the second turning on the left, you'd avoid most of the traffic.

    Cf.

    2. If you take the second turning on the left, you'll avoid most of the traffic.

    The speaker in #1 does not necessarily regard the acceptance of his advice as somehow less probable than the speaker in #2; rather, he uses the 2nd conditional to present his advice is a more "remote" (and thus more polite) manner.

    Here, on the other hand, the 2nd conditional is used to present a proposal:

    3. If we ordered 5000 instead of 3000, we could lower the price to £150.

    Cf.

    4. If we order 5000 instead of 3000, we can lower the price to £150.

    Again, the speaker in #3 does not necessarily regard acceptance of his proposal as somehow more improbable than the speaker in #4; the proposal is simply presented in a less "immediate" and more detached (or possibly ruminative) way.

    Then too, the second conditional may be used to entertain hypotheses (irrespective of probability) in science or philosophy:

    5. Thus if we were to define 'true' as 'useful' (as suggested by some pragmatists), or else as 'successful' or 'confirmed' or 'corroborated', we should only have to introduce a new 'absolute' and 'timeless' concept to play the role of 'truth'.

    MrP
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  7. #77
    5jj's Avatar
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    The last post on this thread appeared some five days ago, and I have no particular desire to reactivate the discussion.

    I merely wish to post here some words written over the last twenty-six years. They may be useful to refer to if a discussion on the subjunctive starts up again in another thread.



    1. We often use were instead of was after if. This is common in both formal and informal styles. In a formal style, were is more common than was, and many people consider it more correct, especially in American English.

    Swan, Michael (2005) Practical English Usage, 3rd edn, Oxford: OUP. page 235.

    2. (i) If it was/were to rain, the ropes would snap. […]

    As (i) illustrates, both the past subjunctive and the past indicative forms are possible for hypothetical conditions, the subjunctive being preferred by many, especially in formal written English:

    If John was/were here, we would soon learn the truth.

    The idiom if I … you by convention usually contains the subjunctive were, though as also occurs frequently.

    Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey and Svartik, Jan (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, London: Longman, Pages 1093-4.


    3. In popular and non-formal speech and writing, the were-subjunctive is often replaced by the indicative was, which brings this verb into line with other verbs, where the past tense is similarly used for hypothesis about the present and future […]. Were is, however, widely preferred in If I were you.

    Sylvia Chalker in McArthur, Tom (1992) The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford: OUP, Pages 997-8.


    4. In most informal contexts, indicative forms of be are preferred, except for the semi-fixed expression if I were you.

    Carter, Ronald & McCarthy, Michael (2006) Cambridge Grammar of English, Cambridge: CUP, Page 756.


    5. Although sentences of the type [If I were you, I’d leave him] continue to be used, there is increasing use of was instead of were in these types of sentences in contemporary spoken English.

    Yule, George (1998) Explaining English Grammar, Oxford: OUP. Page 131.


    6. In BrE the subjunctive mood is most likely to be found in formal writing or speech […] But it is seldom obligatory, and indeed is commonly (?usually) invisible because the notionally subjunctive and the indicative forms are the same.

    Burchfield, R W (1996) The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Oxford, OUP, page 748.


    The Past Subjunctive […] survives as a form distinct from the ordinary Indicative Past Tense only in the use of were, the Past Tense form of the verb to be with a singular subject […]. Like the Present Subjunctive, this is nowadays fairly infrequent, and is often replaced by Past Indicative was

    The Subjunctive singular were, however, still prevails in more formal style, and in the familiar phrase If I were you ….

    Leech, Geoffrey, (2004) Meaning and the English Verb. 3rd edn, Harlow, Pearson Longman, page 115.

    7.
    […] especially in informal English. When we are talking about an unlikely situation, you use the simple past tense in the conditional clause, and ‘would’, ‘should’ or ‘might’ in the main clause. […]

    I should be surprised if it was less than five pounds.
    […]

    In the conditional clause, ‘were’ is sometimes used instead of ‘was’, especially after ‘I’.

    If I were as big as you, I would kill you.

    Sinclair, John (Editor-in-Chief), (1990) Collins Cobuild English Grammar, London: HarperCollins, Page351.

    8.
    Traditionally, the uses of ordinary indicative tenses to express hypothesis etc […] have been described as examples of subjunctive mood or tense […] Modern grammar considers this to be quite unjustified, and restricts the use of the term subjunctive to two distinct tenses. […]

    The so-called past subjunctive (also called the were-subjunctive) is used in clauses of hypothetical condition. It differs from the past indicative of be only in the first and third person singular, which popularly replace it. […]

    If I were you, I’d own up. (If I was you …)

    Chalker, Sylvia and Weiner, Edmund (1993) The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2nd edn, Oxford: OUP, Pages 381-2.

    9.
    The main use of irrealis were is in subordinate construction where the preterite of other verbs has the modal remoteness meaning – remote conditionals […] and the complement of wish, would rather, etc. Preterite was, however, is very widely used instead of irrealis were in these constructions, especially in informal style […].

    Was
    has been in competition with were for 300-400 years, and in general the usage manuals regard it as acceptable, though less formal than were. […] if I were you bears some resemblance to a fixed phrase, and was is less usual here than in conditionals generally.

    Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey K (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge: CUP, Page 86.

    10. […] the true subjunctive form iis dead in English. It survives in a few main sentences of wish or desire like “God save the King” […] .
    Were as the past singular subjunctive form has held out a little more tenaciously, partly because in the stereotyped phrase “If I were you” the complement you has by attraction tended to establish it […] In the following sentence, for example, our modern tendency would be to turn the subjunctive were into a blunt indicative:

    It is high time the wide field of Tudor music, both secular and sacred, were explored by many more schools.

    Vallins, G H, (1951) Good English, London: Pan

    11. The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is put it out of its misery as soon as possible.

    Maugham, WS (1949) A Writer’s Notebook, Garden City, NY: Doubleday.


    As these words were written by W Somerset Maugham, by leading teachers and writers in the fields of English and Linguistics in universities all over the English-speaking world, and by contributors to various Oxford dictionaries, some would feel that they are (if I may borrow some of Philo's words scattered throughout this thread) articulate, careful, educated, literate and perceptive speakers of English.
    16
    Last edited by 5jj; 04-Feb-2011 at 21:04.

  8. #78
    hznaeem is offline Junior Member
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    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 .........................................

    Hi, it's a bit complicated for me, as a non-native speaker, to understand the complex/controversial use of subjunctives.
    But I got a result from the long discussion in the thread that there are some exceptions in English language known as 'subjunctives', well grammatically they haven't been proved, but this is the fact that their use is common in English. Am I right?
    Thanks

  9. #79
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    Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by hznaeem View Post
    Hi, it's a bit complicated for me, as a non-native speaker, to understand the complex/controversial use of subjunctives.....
    You posted this question in another thread five minutes after this. Please do not post one question in two different threads. Different answers posted by people who are not aware that another thread is in existence may lead to confusing answers.

    As this thread had virtually closed six weeks ago, I suggest that your question be answered in Use of 'were' with 'he'

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