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  1. Junior Member
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    Subjunctive or not?

    At the very beginning, an article, entitled Chinese Politics – A Spectacular Fall, dated Sept. 29, 2012, (please see Chinese politics: A spectacular fall | The Economist), reads

    If HE ever fell, it was going to have to be a great spectacle. And so it has become.

    It's worth noting the former sentence is past tense while the latter is present tense and HE means Bo Xi-lai, a former member of politburo, who falls, or has fallen, when the article sees the light of day.

    The argument is that an old hand at English claims the former sentence is subjunctive but I disagree.

    Considering his reasoning is written in Chinese, I give my argument, omitting the parts of Chinese translations, as follows.

    The subjunctive deals with something imaginary, untrue, false, negative, illogical, impossible, against brass tacks, and so on and so forth.

    Since the sentences in question are simple ones, they make perfect sense, instead of hokum.

    The former two past tenses, in my opinion, mean someone happened to guess, at some time in the past I'm none the wiser, right at the present episode while the latter present tense simply expresses a supporting fait accompli. As a matter of fact, many alpha officers in China have stepped down, been thrown out of offices, or been put behind the bars. It is no longer strange for anyone to figure, right or wrong, who's going to be the next in the near future. Consequently, the words in the above sentences cooperate with each other. The latter agrees with the former. Please allow me to rephrase the sentences:

    Rumor had it that “If he ever falls, it is going to have to be a great spectacle.” And so it has become.
    “If he ever fell, it would be going to have to be a great spectacle.” as someone speculated years ago. And so it has become.

    By the way, can this one be something like

    If he ever falls, it is going to have to be a great spectacle. And so it has become.?

    I afraid not, because that he falls, or has fallen, has become a de facto state of affairs. If isn't necessary any longer here. In addition, main clause in the former sentence isn't fit right in here with the latter sentence, either. That's why, I figure, the author utilized past tense.

    In the original, If he ever fell can be considered either as normal past tense or the subjunctive, whereas it was going to... is simple past tense. If the whole thing at issue is subjunctive, well, according to English grammar, it's supposed to be

    If he ever fell, it would be going to have to be a great spectacle. And so it has become.

    The former is the present tense subjunctive and the later is present perfective. Obviously, the former is against the established fact and crap, because that he falls, or has fallen, is a done deal. If is, therefore, ridiculous here.

    The weird thing is sometimes subordinate clause uses past tense while main clause does present tense in the subjunctive. But however unusual it may be, it's still subjunctive. Now let me rephrase the original and see if it works:

    If he had ever fallen, it would be going to have to be a great spectacle. And so it has become.

    Although the past tense subjunctive in subordinate clause can be adopted here, both its main clause and the following sentence are present tense. They become ill sentences and logically meaningless. Apparently, the above make no sense, either.

    What do you think of it?

    Thank you for your kind attention.
    Last edited by coolfool; 16-Oct-2012 at 04:38.

  2. Key Member
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    Re: Subjunctive or not?

    You are quite correct: 'fell' here is not subjunctive, the whole being simply a past-tense recast of

    If he ever FALLS, it IS going to have to be....

    and thus classifiable as a variant first, rather than a true second, conditional.

    I trust that puts your mind at rest!

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