Subjunctive(?): not critical that

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Sat Mar 22 20:47:19 UTC 2008

I hope that Dennis rethink this?

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Preston <preston at MSU.EDU>

Date:         Sat, 22 Mar 2008 16:40:43
Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Subjunctive(?): not critical that

This entire message assumes that the subjunctive
is intact in Spanish and apparently used by all,
unfortunately on the basis of a single Spanish
teacher's instructions! (My favorite bit of
sociolinguistics for quite some time is is "How
seriously? My Spanish teacher...."). That would
equate studying the drift of living languages by
asking what their teachers taught. In fact, the
Spanish subjunctive it is rapidly disappearing in
nearly all varieties of spoken Spanish. Good


>---------------------- Information from the mail
>header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       "JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need."
>               <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM>
>Subject:      Re: Subjunctive(?): not critical that
>Various ADS-L members have contributed the following to this thread:
>>   > A practical reason for retaining the subjunctive is the fact that
>>   > other languages have it or an equivalent. These foreign subjunctives
>>   > are difficult to grasp, even when you're an active user of the English
>>   > subjunctive, which itself can be difficult to grasp, as this thread
>>   > shows.
>>  So if using the English subjunctive doesn't help with foreign subjunctives,
>>   then what is the practical reason for retaining the English subjunctive?
>>Well, to keep sentences like the following from falling together:
>>      She insists that he take his medicine.
>>      She insists that he takes his medicine.
>>among other reasons.
>>Don't everybody agree that it don't be no reason for not even no
>>(pswaydo-)standard in English.
>Spanish is a language that takes the subjunctive
>seriously.  How seriously?  My high school
>Spanish teacher had us spend several weeks
>studying nothing but the subjunctive, ending
>with the longest take-home exam I have ever had.
>It was at the end of those weeks that I first
>felt that I spoke Spanish, because I could now
>say so much more than before the exercise
>An example, from Garcia Lorca  ’ÄúAunque sepa
>los caminos, yo nunque llegare a Cordoba’Äù.
>(’ÄúEven though I may know the roads, I shall
>never arrive at Cordova’Äù).  The verb
>’Äúsepa’Äù, which I rendered above as ’Äúmay
>know’Äù, is in the subjunctive.  By using this
>form of the verb, Garcia Lorca was able to
>suggest something quite different from an
>indicative ’ÄúEven though I *am* familiar with
>the roads, I shall never arrive at Cordova’Äù.
>What purpose does the subjunctive serve in Spanish?
>1.      setting the, uh, mood of a would-be or false-to-fact statement
>2.      (much less often) making explicit
>whether the speaker is speaking factually or
>’ÄúShe insists that he take his medicine.’Äù is
>subjunctive in that he apparently refuses or
>forgets or something to take medicine.  ’ÄúShe
>insists that he takes his medicine’Äù is
>factual, in that she is stating that taking
>medicine is an action he actually performs.
>The problem in English is twofold.
>1.      the subjunctive in English is so
>vestigial that most people simply won’Äôt
>recognize the difference in meaning between
>’Äúthat he take’Äù and ’Äúthat he takes’Äù.
>2.      the subjunctive only differs from the
>indicative in the singular.  ’ÄúShe insists that
>they take their medicine’Äù---is that indicative
>or subjunctive?
>Hence I say that the so-called ’Äúsubjunctive
>mood’Äù in English is not a true subjunctive but
>rather a grammatical idiosyncracy which is
>rarely used to distinguish two moods of a verb,
>and should be referred to as a
>How then does an English speaker express what a
>Spanish-speaker would use the subjunctive for?
>By using the aspects of the English verb.  The
>true subjunctive in English can be expressed in
>some contexts by using the ’Äúmay’Äù and
>’Äúmight’Äù aspects of the verb: ’Äúeven though
>I *may know* the roads’Äù or by using the
>emphatic/negative aspect, ’ÄúShe insists that he
>does take his medicine’Äù as opposed to using
>other aspects ’ÄúShe insists that he should take
>his medicine’Äù or ’ÄúShe insists that he must
>take his medicine’Äù.  This use of aspect also
>works in the plural:  ’ÄúShe insists that they
>do take their medicine’Äù as opposed to ’ÄúShe
>insists that they must take their medicine’Äù.
>Adverbs can also be used: ’ÄúShe insists that he
>really takes his medicine’Äù versus ’ÄúShe
>insists that he better take his medicine.’Äù
>            James A. Landau
>            test engineer
>            Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
>            8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
>            West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA
>Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list