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06 November 2004 @ 14:50
Gone, but not forgotten  

The English subjunctive is dead. I know this because I saw it on the front page of the Toronto Sun. (I didn't actually buy a copy or anything like that; I was just walking past a rank of newspaper boxes and happened to notice it.) Now, I am well aware that you can't believe everything you read in Der Sun, but this is a special case. Der Sun was not actually reporting on the death of the subjunctive; it was reporting on the refusal of a BQ MP to supply veterans in his riding with a Canadian flag. Nevertheless, the headline on the story clearly proclaimed the demise of the subjunctive mood, in characters of a size that soberer newspapers reserve for the outbreak of a major war:

I hereby propose that everyone mark marks the passage of this noble mood with two minutes of silence.

 
 
Nuværende humør: sympatheticsouvenant
 
 
 
Tishiewahooweena on 6. November, 2004 19:59 (UTC)
If I were was the linguistic type, that would probably get on my nerves.
rydel23rydel23 on 6. November, 2004 23:11 (UTC)
"would've probably gotten". ;)
Tishiewahooweena on 7. November, 2004 04:12 (UTC)
It's dead.
Elkins: grinskelkins on 6. November, 2004 23:42 (UTC)
I hereby propose that everyone mark marks the passage of this noble mood with two minutes of silence.

Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Rest in peace, noble subjunctive.
(Anonym) on 11. November, 2004 01:36 (UTC)
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Let let be the finale for once.
love, play & inquirytrochee on 7. November, 2004 02:32 (UTC)
Perhaps the editor is a Francophone who believes that the English subjunctive has already passed?

(Wouldn't that be an excellent irony...)
"That Anne Girl": Pussyfootabenn on 7. November, 2004 07:30 (UTC)
The subjunctive has finally died? It's been near death for much longer than Arafat.

The adverb can't be far behind-- it's been languishing in a coma for years.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 7. November, 2004 18:22 (UTC)

Walt Kelly used to say, "God is not dead; he is merely unemployed," and I think it's the same with adverbs. Adjectives have muscled into some jobs formerly held by adverbs, but I think a sort of truce has been reached—the adjectives get to do adverbial jobs in certain dialects and registers, but I don't see them taking over the remaining territory. (For instance, I would be much more surprised to see a newspaper—even Der Sun—write about "jobs former held by X" than I was to see the "Lest he forgets" headline.)

What I am holding a death watch for, though, is shown. The verb seems to be slipping into the regular pattern, in which the past participle has the same form as the simple past: a couple of quick Googlings reveal that the ranks of "has showed" and "have showed" are strong, though they are still in the minority.

puntomaupunto on 9. November, 2004 13:17 (UTC)
The Sun...
... just tries not to upset its audience.
Subjunctive will be dead only when British people will sing
God saves the Queen.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 9. November, 2004 16:15 (UTC)
Re: The Sun...

By that standard, I think the subjunctive may live longer than the Queen. But if it's not being used productively—if nobody makes up new sentences with the subjunctive—then the subjunctive is dead, and "God save the Queen" is a fossil.

Besides, "God save the Queen" is open to reintepretation as a vocative followed by an ordinary second-person imperative: "God, save the Queen!" As Geoff Pullum notes on Language Log, a similar reanalysis has already taken place in patriotic music on the other side of the pond.

puntomaupunto on 9. November, 2004 16:32 (UTC)
God save the Queen
English grammar is not exactly my field - as everybody can see... - but I thought that the form was that of a "wishing subjunctive", what in Italy we call "congiuntivo esortativo". True, it's a kind of imperative, but I cannot manage to see God as a vocative.
But are there examples of subjunctive that are not fossil? On top of my head I remember just fixed forms like "if I were you", "lest he forget", "let it be me", "heaven forfend".
ciao, .mau.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 10. November, 2004 00:28 (UTC)
Re: God save the Queen

"God save the Queen" is definitely a congiuntivo esortativo for anyone who still has a subjunctive mood. But I think the only way for a native speaker of English who does not have a subjunctive to make sense of it is as an imperative with a vocative at the beginning.

Because the subjunctive is dead (or dying) in English, it's hard to come up with non-fossilized examples. I still have the subjunctive myself, and the unamended version of my statement "I hereby propose that everyone mark the passage of this noble mood" is an example of how I use it productively.

The Mad Latinistjdm314 on 9. November, 2004 19:33 (UTC)
Ironic, I was just complaining about lest+indicative, due to an occurance in the subtitles of a film. It was a Polish children's film with subtitles in English... the English was generally grammatically correct, but off in a number of ways.

The situation was this: a child is telling his mother that his sled can move on its own, the mother, irritated, replies sarcastically "Then you'd better tie it up lest it runs away." Now obviously no native speaker would use lest there, unless they were evoking Shakespeare or something. But then the problem becomes that if you're going to use an archaic word, you should use the archaic grammar that goes with it, namely the subjunctive. Lest plus indicative sounds TERRIBLE to me.
Teresa Nielsen Haydentnh on 15. November, 2004 15:09 (UTC)
If that were true, I should be very upset.
Okay, so they flubbed the subjunctive in 144-point type, in a front-page headline on and about Remembrance Day.

And yes, they flubbed it in a way that can't go unnoticed, because the line echoes a much more famous line that does use the subjunctive correctly: "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, / Lest we forget, lest we forget!" -- the refrain from "Recessional" by Rudyard Kipling.

But look at it this way: Are you in the habit of believing everything you read in the Toronto Sun?
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 16. November, 2004 14:35 (UTC)
Re: If that were true, I should be very upset.

Part of why Der Sun got it wrong, though, is that the original Kipling line would have been exactly the same if it had been in the indicative instead—in this context, the two moods are morphologically distinct only in the third person singular. Had the subjunctive been more different more of the time, it might have lived longer.

And, as I think I may have mentioned in the original post, I'm not in the habit of reading the Toronto Sun, let alone believing it.

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