Subjunctive(?): not critical that

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Mar 19 16:31:26 UTC 2008

At 12:14 PM -0400 3/19/08, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>At 3/19/2008 08:20 AM, Dennis Preston wrote:
>>For me the subjunctive (whose disappearance I applaud daily, and not
>>only in English) sounds better in the passive:
>>[1] "It's not critical that everything be tied together."
>>And the indicative passive is not so good at least for one of the
>>subtle distinctions that we appear to be trying to make here:
>>[2] "It's not critical that everything is tied together."
>Doesn't [2] potentially have the opposite sense from [1], and
>therefore is at least ambiguous?  [1], being subjunctive, means that
>it is the case that not everything is tied together.

I dispute that claim.  In my usage (active or passive), (1) is
compatible with the possibility that everything is (already) tied
together ("It's not critical that everything be tied together, but it
would be a good idea--why don't you check and add some tape if you
need to") and is also compatible with the possibility that everything
is not (yet) tied together.  It's about what should or, in this case,
need not be the case, not what is currently the case.


>   [2] can be
>interpreted as meaning that everything *is* tied together, but that's
>not critical (i.e., some things could be loose and the situation
>could still be acceptable).
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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