[Ads-l] A new or enhanced mood?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 31 11:25:46 EDT 2017

I keep getting these messages from one of my several faithful political pen-pals that seem to suggest the emergence of an expansion of the subjunctive.  This is from someone named Diane Russell (identified in a footer as a former Maine state representative, speaker and Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and The Nation magazine's "2011 Most Valuable State Representative”)

The message reads as follows (*emphasis* added):

Dear Laurence,

The Washington Post is *reporting that Neil Gorsuch not get confirmed* without avoiding a filibuster. 

And that means we have a very real chance of stopping him.

But with Gorsuch's corporate backers outspending us 20-1, it's up to the grassroots resistance to fight back…

And the teaser appearing on my mailer (which doesn’t appear separately in the subject line or the text of the messages) states

“The Washington Post *says that Neil Gorsuch not get confirmed* without avoiding a filibuster.

Now in fact, the WaPo piece she links to—https://tinyurl.com/mtugugw--indicates, unsurprisingly, that Gorsuch *may* not be confirmed smoothly, i.e. sans filibuster, since there may not be 60 votes for closure.

Regardless of how you feel about the Gorsuch nomination, you will notice that for Russell, the verbs “report” and “say” apparently govern the subjunctive (or, if you prefer, the bare stem) in the subordinate clause.  For me, this is possible with a class of directives like “insist”, “demand”, “require”, or “ask”:

   Diane Russell (Bernie Sanders,…) is insisting/demanding/suggesting/asking that Neil Gorsuch not get confirmed.

But this syntax is impossible with verbs of communication like “report”, “say”, and “claim" (or like “insist” and “suggest” on the relevant reading, the one in which they’re verbs of saying rather than directives).  Such verbs require either an ordinary finite clause (“The Post reported that Gorsuch got/didn’t get confirmed”) or a modal + bare stem (“The Post says that Gorsuch should get/not get confirmed...” or “…will/will not get confirmed…").  Indeed, we (at least prescriptively) get minimal pairs like

I suggest (insist) that she does not eat meat.   [i.e. I (strongly) maintain that she's a vegetarian]
I suggest (insist) that she not eat meat.            [i.e. I (fervently) want her to be a vegetarian]

If anything, it’s the latter (“subjunctive”) form that seems to be on the decline, yet Russell’s grammar seems to—what, hypercorrect in the opposite direction? (Note that she couldn’t be just deleting “should” in such cases without grossly (deliberately?) altering the WaPo report.)   

Since the new construction is used twice (and in repeated messages) by Russell or her group, I’m not sure it’s a simple typo. But I’m also hesitant to suggest that she’s devious enough to turn the WaPo’s estimate of future prospects for Gorsuch’s smooth confirmation into a call for action.  Has anyone else encountered a simple verb of saying governing a bare stem/subjunctive? 


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