Subjunctive(?): not critical that

JAMES A. LANDAU Netscape. Just the Net You Need. JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Mon Mar 31 01:09:08 UTC 2008

Apologies for taking so long to respond to this thread.

I wrote

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 started.

Dennis Preston interpreted my words differently than I intended:

Well, I must be a poor reader. I thought you said that Spanish took
its subjunctive seriously and that the evidence you gave was that
your Spanish teacher spent a lot of time on it and tested you on it
extensively. I'm still having trouble not understanding that.

I phrased myself poorly.  What I meant to say was that in a few weeks I went from being ignorant of the Spanish subjunctive to being highly aware of it.  That is, I had a very sharp dichotomy between not knowing the subjunctive and knowing it.

Once I had learned it, I personally observed that I was able to express many ideas in Spanish that I simply could not previously.  Our class also jumped from grammar into Spanish literature and I observed the subjunctive was commonly used in LITERARY Spanish.  Therefore I concluded on my own, and not because my teacher said so, that Spanish “took the subjunctive seriously”.

Obviously the teacher (who had spent at least one year at the University of Madrid, so she was not just parroting a textbook) thought the subjunctive was important, as did both of our grammar texts, but I repeat that I was stating my own conclusion.

Professor Preston also wrote

[your] message assumes that the subjunctive is intact in Spanish and apparently used by all, <snip> In fact, the Spanish subjunctive it is rapidly disappearing in nearly all varieties of spoken Spanish. Good riddance.

I have in front of me the March 14, 2008 issue of “Nuestra Comunidad”, a Spanish-language newspaper published in New Jersey (  On page 4 there are some hombre-in-the-street interviews.  The question asked is one ADS members should be interested in:  “Do you have difficulties visiting agency which don’t have bilingual employees?”.

(In the following subjunctive verbs will be capitalized)

56-year-old Puerto Rican  “en las escuelas deber haber personas que HABLEN espanol porque muchos padres necesitan ser orientados en espanol”  (in schools there must be persons who SPEAK Spanish because many parents need to be oriented in Spanish”

30-year-old Columbian  “en cada entidad publica deberia existir por lo menos una persona que PUDIESE atender a la comunidad hispana”.  (in each public entity there would be at least one person who WAS ABLE to touch base with the Hispanic community)

22-year-old Honduran  “es importante que las entidades publicas CUENTEN con un interprete or TENGAN un empleado que HABLE espanol”  (it is important that the public entities MIGHT SPEAK through an interpreter or MIGHT HAVE an employee who MAY SPEAK Spanish)

I have no idea how much the responses were edited before being published, but at the least it shows that the editor expected the readers to expect a random Hispanic to use the subjunctive.

I could go through the rest of the newspaper but I think this makes the point, that there is a disconnect between your statement about the subjunctive “rapidly disappearing” and my quickie research on the topic.

           James A. Landau
           test engineer
           Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
           8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
           West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA

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