Thursday, 29 January 2015

Grammar: Subjunctivitis

Pompous? Moi?
They looked into the subjunctive but reckoned it hadn’t brought anyone any happiness. (Ken Campbell on Pidgin English)

He came on very grand and subjunctival. (Jeremy Treglown on Roald Dahl)

I think Ive got subjunctivitis. Would that I didn’t! (‏@MooseAllain)

The subjunctive mood, always weak in English, has been dwindling away for centuries until it has almost vanished. According to traditional thought, statements about the conditional future such as “If I were a carpenter...” require the subjunctive “were”; but “was” is certainly much more common. Still, if you want to impress those in the know with your usage, use “were” when writing of something hypothetical, unlikely, or contrary to fact. (Washington State University)

Many complain that writing has become sloppier over the past 30 years. It’s much worse than that: language has become increasingly pompous. We used to say “The rules require that helmets should be worn” and now we say “The rules require that helmets be worn” – why?

People are using the subjunctive after even “if”. Why do they not eschew the subjunctive as a ghastly Americanism? Americans love it! And why is “dare” always in the subjunctive?

It’s important that this community flourish. (should flourish)

If someone needed a kidney and I were a match... (“If I were a match” sounds wrong too.)

If that weren't bad enough... (wasn’t)

My advice is that he take a trip to Stroud. (he should take? that he takes? How about: I’d advise him to take a trip to Stroud.)

He suggested that it be done (it should be done)

And as if that weren’t confusing enough… (wasn’t)

The obvious thing to do in this crisis is to capitalise on the situation's many diplomatic opportunities, rather than loudly demand Putin accede to Western demands (accedes - and find a synonym for "demand". And shouldn't it be "demand that Putin accedes"?)

Or to put it another way, would we rather our economy collapse inside or outside the collapse of Europe’s economy? (collapsed)

Better the species become extinct than that it should attack small children.
(Where to start with this dreadful sentence? It would be better for the species to disappear than for it to attack small children? It would be better if the species disappeared than it attacked small children? If the species attacks small children, let it go extinct?)

Can a noun save the day?

recommends that the submission be approved: recommends the submission’s approval

demanded that the King abdicate and the PM resign: demanded the king’s abdication and the PM’s resignation

If I were a swallow I’d whistle and sing... (But this is right, somehow.)

More pedantry here.

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