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  1. #11
    JohnAnderson is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by 5jj View Post
    There is perhaps an excuse in #3. Connie and George could be accepting that 'he' was a war veteran.
    So does this mean that for some speakers, there is a difference between
    If he was a war veteran, he would lie.
    and
    If he were a war veteran, he would lie.
    with the former indicating a higher likelihood that he really was a war veteran?

  2. #12
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnAnderson View Post
    So does this mean that for some speakers, there is a difference between
    If he was a war veteran, he would lie.
    and
    If he were a war veteran, he would lie.
    with the former indicating a higher likelihood that he really was a war veteran?
    Not in this sentence.
    'Was' is indicative past tense (relating to a fact about the past); 'Were' is subjunctive past tense (relating to a hypothetical about the present).
    Unfortunately (or not), once a war veteran, always a war veteran. If you replaced this with "soldier", there would be a difference in meaning.

    If he was a soldier (during the war, but not necessarily now - past indicative), he would lie.
    If he were a soldier (now - subjunctive), he would lie.


  3. #13
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by 5jj View Post
    Those who have followed the various discussions on the subjunctive in UE forums might be interested in something I noticed about thirty minutes into the film version of Le Carré's 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'.

    I've noticed recently that Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White (1860) was not keen on the subjunctive form either:

    "He flatters my vanity by talking to me as seriously and sensibly as if I was a man."
    "… he addressed me oratorically, as if I was laid up in the House of Commons."
    "He exerted himself to interest and amuse us, as if he was determined to efface from our memories"

    But he also writes:
    "... as if he were still a young man"
    "I turned and looked after him, wondering if he were ill or out of spirits."
    Last edited by Raymott; 08-Mar-2012 at 20:12.

  4. #14
    JohnAnderson is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Not in this sentence.
    'Was' is indicative past tense (relating to a fact about the past); 'Were' is subjunctive past tense (relating to a hypothetical about the present).
    Unfortunately (or not), once a war veteran, always a war veteran. If you replaced this with "soldier", there would be a difference in meaning.

    If he was a soldier (during the war, but not necessarily now - past indicative), he would lie.
    If he were a soldier (now - subjunctive), he would lie.

    The thing is I don't see a difference between those two sentences. They're both present counterfactual conditionals in my idiolect. I cannot interpret if he was a soldier, he would lie as a past factual conditional.

    According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, many writers use both was and were in counterfactual conditionals, sometimes both in the same sentence.
    Last edited by JohnAnderson; 09-Mar-2012 at 14:21.

  5. #15
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    konungursvia is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    That's why the subjunctive is virtually dead, because native speakers don't feel it makes a difference. Originally, as is still the case in languages where the subjunctive is a big deal, the "if he were" construction would show a much higher degree of reticence, doubt, fear, or reluctance to evoke the clause in question (cf. "God forbid she should get sick now, at the age of 6 months," vs. Let's try and avoid letting her getting sick at the age of six months.)

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnAnderson View Post
    The thing is I don't see a difference between those two sentences. They're both present counterfactual conditionals in my idiolect. I cannot interpret if he was a soldier, he would lie as a past factual conditional.

    According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, many writers use both was and were in counterfactual conditionals, sometimes both in the same sentence.

  6. #16
    JohnAnderson is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Actually, I think it's just because we're bringing the verb be in line with every other verb. With every other verb, we use the past tense in present counterfactuals: if I owned a car, I would go for a drive. It's only be that has this special form were, and it's only distinguished from the regular past tense in the first and third persons. So it's not surprising that it's being replaced by was.

    This doesn't mean that we don't see the need in expressing counterfactuals. It just means that we don't use a special verb form to do it. I'm not sure what doubt, fear or reluctance has to do with it.
    Last edited by JohnAnderson; 09-Mar-2012 at 15:59.

  7. #17
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnAnderson View Post
    The thing is I don't see a difference between those two sentences. They're both present counterfactual conditionals in my idiolect. I cannot interpret if he was a soldier, he would lie as a past factual conditional.
    That's possibly because there's no context. If you can't see a difference, then you must concede that the phrase,
    "If he was a soldier" can means two different things - i) "If he used to be a soldier in the past" and ii) If he was a soldier now.

    Do you mean that this is impossible in your dialect?:
    A: "Do you think he would lie?"
    B: "He used to be a soldier."
    A: "Ah, if he was a soldier, he would lie."

    How about:
    "If he was part of the gang that robbed that store, he must be arrested."
    "If he was at the party [last night], he would know the truth."

    How do you express past factual conditionals?
    Last edited by Raymott; 09-Mar-2012 at 16:46.

  8. #18
    JohnAnderson is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Subjunctives in 'Tinker, Tailor, ...'

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    That's possibly because there's no context. If you can't see a difference, then you must concede that the phrase,
    "If he was a soldier" can means two different things - i) "If he used to be a soldier in the past" and ii) If he was a soldier now.
    That's right. It's the main clause that tells you if it's a real conditional or not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Do you mean that this is impossible in your dialect?:
    A: "Do you think he would lie?"
    B: "He used to be a soldier."
    A: "Ah, if he was a soldier, he would lie."

    How about:
    "If he was part of the gang that robbed that store, he must be arrested."
    "If he was at the party [last night], he would know the truth."

    How do you express past factual conditionals?
    Those are possible, but for me it seems more natural to say it like this:
    A: Ah, if he used to be a soldier, he might lie.
    and
    "If he was at the party last night, he must know the truth."

    The presence of "would" in the main clause leans the whole sentence towards being an unreal conditional in my mind. Or maybe I've lost all perspective because I'm thinking about this too much.

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