Sep 252015

Let’s talk about using the subjunctive. After all, if they aren’t teaching it in school (unless you take foreign language), and if I fail to describe it a bit here, then I have no business ranting about its decline.

First of all, note this: in English, the verb forms for the subjunctive are the same as for the indicative, except for first person and third person singular. That means that much of the time it won’t matter whether you realize you’re in subjunctive or not because you’ll just happen to get it right anyway.

But … what about first person and third person singular? Let’s look at first person first.

First Person

The most common way to get into a subjunctive mood (or mode) is with an If statement that is either false, probably false, or hypothetical.

Suppose I did not go to the game yesterday, and suppose I went to the grocery store instead. At the grocery store, I knocked over the pile of pumpkins. Thus, I could say:

If I were at the game yesterday, I wouldn’t have knocked over the pumpkins.

Now suppose that I did go to the game two weeks ago. I wore my blue sweater at the game (the air was chilly). Someone comes up to me the next day and says, “Hey, I saw you at the game last night. You were wearing a green sweater.”

I could say, “You must be thinking of someone else. If I was at the game, I’d be wearing my blue sweater.”

Indeed, I was at the game, so the conditional is true.

Third Person

Replace the “I” in the previous examples with “Aunt Ruth.”

If Aunt Ruth were at the game, she wouldn’t have knocked over the pumpkins. (She wasn’t at the game; she went grocery shopping instead.)

If Aunt Ruth was at the game, she’d be wearing her blue sweater. (In this example, Aunt Ruth did go to the game in question.)

There are other cases and examples to talk about, and we’ll discuss it further in the near future. Until then …



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