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Thread: Subjunctive

  1. #11
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    Intriguing. Although I'm not myself a great user of the present subjunctive, except in fixed expressions, I have nonetheless noticed an increase in its use over the last 20-30 years, especially in business English. (The Japanese paper to which I referred earlier confirmed this.) So I'm not convinced it's any more moribund today than it was a hundred years ago, when grammarians and style-guidists similarly anticipated its demise.

    I was also interested to hear World Cup commentators (both radio and tv) happily availing themselves of various subjunctive forms, both inverted and otherwise, and including the present subjunctive; one for instance (whose name I don't recall) particularly favoured the "be he X, be he Y" structure.

    (I also noticed a great fondness for "had he have done X" and "if he had have done Y", but that's another story.)

    MrP

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    Default Re: Subjunctive

    "Be he X or be he Y" is an example of a fossil -- it's an idiom which uses an archaic grammatical structure, but it continues to be used simply because it's an idiom. This exact phrase actually comes from the classic English fairy-tale Jack and the Beanstalk: Jack, to his horror, hears the ogre saying:

    Fee fi fo fum,
    I smell the blood of an Englishman.
    Be he alive or be he dead,
    I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

    Other "fossilised" examples of the subjunctive include "God save the Queen", "Allah be praised", "Thank God", "Be it as it may" and many others.

    If use of the subjunctive is increasing in business correspondence, I would attribute that to the American influence.

    Incidentally, it's worth noting that sports commentators are not very good barometers of contemporary English usage. They tend to create their own clichés and repeat them ad nauseum. "Over the moon" and "sick as a parrot" to describe elation and dispair respectively are two well-known examples of this.

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