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Thread: the subjunctive

  1. #1
    balakrishnanijk is offline Member
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    Default the subjunctive

    Ever since I posted three sentences pertaining to the subjunctive mood, they have attracted a lot of attention and become a subject of great controversy.I wish to thank all those who have responded to them both favourably and unfavouraby and offered valuable comments. However, I must confess to you all that my mind is still unsettled because although most of the members are in perfect harmony with the first two sentences,I still don't know what is wrong with the third sentence. In order to clarify the point I wish to draw your attention to an example sentence given by Michael Swan in his Practical English Usage:
    We felt it was important that James should write to Uncle Arthur as soon as possible(OR... that James wrote...).
    My own sentence was written on the analogy of the sentence extracted from Michael Swan's grammar.And if the sentence given above is all right what is wrong with my sentence "The judge recommended that the prisoner was kept in prison for another three months"? Could anyone elaborate any further?
    Wouldn't the sentence "The judge recommended keeping the prisoner in prison for another three months"mean the same? It is my knowledge that the first sentence is predominantly used in US English while the second and third are mostly used in the British variety. I would very much like native speakers to comment on it.
    Last edited by balakrishnanijk; 30-Jul-2007 at 17:20. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    If by your first sentence, you mean the one that says "...that the prisoner was kept in prison..." it would not be used in the US. It should be "...that the prisoner BE kept in prison..."

    I'm sorry, but I don't understand your question.
    I recommend that [person] [bare infinitive] - not past, but bare infinitive.

    [a writer, not a teacher]

  3. #3
    balakrishnanijk is offline Member
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    Dear Barb
    Micahel Swan in his Practical English Usage has indicated that although the subjunctive is mostly used in the American variety, British people tend to use the simple present or the simple past in such sentences. Since I am in India, I am often faced with a multiplicity of such constructions and as a matter of fact I don't know which of them to take as a model. I still feel that my sentence is correct in British English even though it may not be correct in American English. Please comment.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    I don't know British English very well.

    I can tell you that "The judge recommended that the prisoner be returned to prison" is correct in US English, and if you cahnge "be" to "was" it would be incorrect.

    We need a BrE speaker to comment on whether "was" is correct in BrE.

    Perhaps you could write a few more sentences that you're not sure about and we can see if there is a pattern that presents particular difficulty?

    [still not a teacher]

  5. #5
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    Hopefully 'was' is not correct in British English.

  6. #6
    balakrishnanijk is offline Member
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    Dear 2006
    I am not very familiar with Birtish English or American English and what we use here is a confused mixture of different kinds of Englishes. What Mr. Swan says in his book is that the subjunctive construction is mostly used in American English and that British people prefer either the should construction or the present/past variety. Being a grammarian, Mr. Swan is keenly aware of the trends in Birtish English and I am not supposed to oppugn his scholarship. What do you think of it?

  7. #7
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    As has been clearly indicated, North American English speakers don't use past tense for something that (should)(is recommended to) happen in the future. It just doesn't make sense to say things like 'The judge recommended that the prisoner was kept.....'

    If in fact British speakers use "was", although I don't think anyone here said they do, they will have to explain why they use "was". If they do use it, you will have to choose whether to learn two kinds of English or just learn one kind.

  8. #8
    Tdol is online now Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    Plenty of British speakers would use the past there. I did a poll on this a while ago and there is a clear voting difference between the Americans and the British: http://www.usingenglish.com/poll/473.html
    Why do we do it? I think that those who do possibly just regard it as a form of indirect speech. Many Brits never use the present subjunctive, apart from in fossils like 'God save the Queen'. The gerund or should are probably the more common forms that would be used.

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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    Interesting poll, Tdol. I see very few American speakers chose "saved."

    So, if I say to you today "Peter, try to see it through to the end," then tomorrow, I would say "I recommended that he see it through to the end" but a BrE speaker might say "She recommended that he saw it through to the end."

    Is that correct? (The difference across the pond continue to befuddle me.)

  10. #10
    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: the subjunctive

    In the sentence, "They suggested we saved our work on a disc.", how is one to know whether "saved" refers to a past or a future action? (One would think it refers to a past action.)
    This seems to be a significant hazard of using past tense for a possible future action.
    Last edited by 2006; 02-Aug-2007 at 22:11.

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