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Thread: The subjunctive

  1. #1
    Shamsiyan is offline Member
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    Default The subjunctive

    Look at each pair of the following sentences:

    1)I am concerned that she should think I stole the money.
    I am concerned that she thinks I stole the money.

    2)It is important that she should understand what her decision means.
    It is important that she understands what her decision means.

    I want to know whether there is a difference in meaning between sentences in each pair?(I think that the sentences in each pair are different)

    Could you please explain more about it?
    Last edited by Shamsiyan; 10-Sep-2012 at 17:02.

  2. #2
    tzfujimino's Avatar
    tzfujimino is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Shamsiyan View Post
    Look at each pair of the following sentences:

    1)I am concerned that she should think I stole the money.
    I am concerned that she thinks I stole the money.

    2)It is important that she should understand what her decision means.
    It is important that she understands what her decision means.

    I want to know whether there is a difference in meaning between sentences in each pair?(I think that the sentences in each pair are different)

    Could you please explain more about it?
    Hello, Shamsiyan.
    Each pair means the same in my opinion.
    I think you'll find this informative: http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/as...y-english.html

  3. #3
    old gobbo is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    Hi, Shamsiyan. I would broadly agree with tzfujimino. At a first reading, one would probably say that, within each pair, both sentences are correct alternative ways of saying the same thing.


    But in the first sentence in 1, ‘ I am concerned that she should think I stole the money,’ there is actually an ambiguity. As well as ‘It is a worry / a matter of concern to me that she believes that I stole the money’ (i.e. I did not take the money but she believes that I did, which worries me), it could also be taken to mean ‘whether or not I stole the money, I want her to believe that I did”.


    The second pair of sentences do not have any ambiguity, but as an exam-passing rule at a high level of English, it might be better to use the subjunctive ‘understand’ in the second sentence: “It is important that she understand what her decision means”. However perhaps someone who is an examiner would like to chip in and say whether mandatory subjunctives are still mandatory in a case like this.
    Last edited by old gobbo; 13-Sep-2012 at 12:15. Reason: spelling mmistake

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    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    There's a subtle difference, but it's one many speakers would perhaps ignore.

    You say you are concerned she does something when you you have a strong reason to think she is actually doing it.

    You say you are concerned she should do something when there's only a possibility, even a very strong possibility, she is doing it.

    In other words, the "should" leaves room for some doubt that she may not be doing it. Unlike the simple present.

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    Shamsiyan is offline Member
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    In your opinion, does each pair of the following sentences have the same meaning?


    1)I am concerned that she may think I stole the money.
    I am concerned that she thinks I stole the money.


    2)It is important that she may understand what her decision means.
    It is important that she understands what her decision means.

  6. #6
    riquecohen's Avatar
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    The second pair of sentences do not have any ambiguity, but as an exam-passing rule at a high level of English, it might be better to use the subjunctive ‘understand’ in the second sentence: “It is important that she understand what her decision means”. However perhaps someone who is en examiner would like to chip in and say whether mandatory subjunctives are still mandatory in a case like this.[/QUOTE]

    If I were grading the exam, I would expect the subjunctive (understand) to be used. It is my understanding, though, that in BrE, should understand, is heard more frequently.

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    old gobbo is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    There's a subtle difference, but it's one many speakers would perhaps ignore.

    You say you are concerned she does something when you you have a strong reason to think she is actually doing it.

    You say you are concerned she should do something when there's only a possibility, even a very strong possibility, she is doing it.

    In other words, the "should" leaves room for some doubt that she may not be doing it. Unlike the simple present.
    Respectfully, I disagree.

    “I am concerned that she should do this”

    - Leaving aside the “optative” sense: ‘I want her to do this’, I can only read this sentence as meaning ‘I am concerned because she is doing / has done this’: not as ‘I am concerned that she may be doing / may have done this’. Am I being wilfully blind ?

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    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by old gobbo View Post
    “I am concerned that she should do this”

    - Leaving aside the “optative” sense: ‘I want her to do this’, I can only read this sentence as meaning ‘I am concerned because she is doing / has done this’: not as ‘I am concerned that she may be doing / may have done this’. Am I being wilfully blind ?
    I agree with you on this. If there's only a possibility that she does/is doing/has done something, I'd use may might or could rather than should.

  9. #9
    old gobbo is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: The subjunctive

    Quote Originally Posted by Shamsiyan View Post
    In your opinion, does each pair of the following sentences have the same meaning?


    1)I am concerned that she may think I stole the money.
    I am concerned that she thinks I stole the money.


    2)It is important that she may understand what her decision means.
    It is important that she understands what her decision means.
    The first pair do not mean the same thing: the second sentence expresses a definite fact in its first subclause – she really does think this; while the first subclause of the first sentence sets out a possibility, thanks to the use of ‘may’ – another way of putting it might be ‘I am concerned that maybe she thinks / she will think I stole the money’.

    The second pair look as if they mean the same thing but in fact there is a slight difference, as much perhaps of tone as of meaning: ‘that she may’ implies that she should be given the opportunity to fully understand’ (leaving aside the ambiguous and opposing sense of this first sentence, along the lines of ‘she may understand what her decision means and we do not wish her to understand this, or because, if she understands this, then she understands other things which we do not wish her to understand, etc.’, a sense which could only occur in very contrived circumstances). The second sentence in this pair simply says that, from the speaker’s point of view and for whatever reason (e,g, for it to be a valid decision legally), it is necessary that she does indeed understand what her decision means, but
    a) as pointed out earlier, it should be ‘It is important that she understand’ (subjunctive) and not ‘understands’ (indicative)
    b) it does not imply, unless further qualification is added, that the speaker or the person addressed should take steps to make sure that she understands, unlike the first sentence.
    (For completeness, I should note that this last sentence is in fact ambiguous, contrary to my earlier mistaken assertion: it could be taken in the same way as the first sentence in this pair, to mean that her understanding is important because we would prefer she did not understand the implications.)

    Could I suggest that when you have to post further sample sentences in the same thread that you identify later ones e.g. as Example 2, Example 3, etc, so that people following the discussion can easily refer to the correct set of sample sentences ? Thanks.

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