Subjunctive(?): not critical that

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Mar 19 16:48:13 UTC 2008

At 3/19/2008 12:31 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>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.

I admit to error about (1) -- it does not determine what currently is
the case.  (2) I still think is problematical.  To me, the "is"
sounds indicative of the present situation: everything *is* currently
tied together, but that's not crucial  But those who don't care about
the subjunctive might interpret (2) also as not determinate --
everything might or might not be tied together at the moment.


>>   [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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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