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The survival of the Subjunctive in American English

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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-30-09 07:34 PM
Original message
The survival of the Subjunctive in American English
I have noticed that my dialect of American English preserves the usage of the Subjunctive very strongly. Even the Present Subjunctive is still used often: "If you be good I will give you a cookie.", "I demand that he stop doing that!", "I insist that she go to the store". When I listen to the speech in other parts of the US I see the subjunctive used less, even in formal speech, that here. It seems that it be pretty much dead in informal speech in the UK.

It's funny, because I'm no grammar nazi, I use the subjective because people used it around me growing up, yet a got told by one of the college lab instructors, who is from the UK, that we "seem to talk in an old-fashioned way"! :rofl:
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ailsagirl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-22-10 12:48 AM
Response to Original message
1. It seems to be fading away... unfortunately
People say, "If I was young again, I'd do it differently."
I would use the word "were" instead of "was" because there
is a difference in meaning.

I'm still shaking my head over people using the word
"literally" when they mean figuratively!!

:eyes:
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-23-10 10:55 PM
Response to Original message
2. The essential problem
is that grammar is not taught in school anymore. I'm not sure they even learn anything at all about tenses, unless they take a foreign language. And foreign language teachers complain bitterly that they have to teach English grammar before they can teach the grammar of the foreign language they're trying to teach.

As an aside, someone I know honestly thought that English didn't really have tenses because your verbs don't change the way they do in the languages he'd studied (Spanish and German). He didn't understand that the way we use helper verbs IS the way English marks tenses. And this from a decently educated man who speaks correctly and writes very well, making very few errors along the way.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-26-10 12:00 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. This has nothing to do with lack of decent grammar teaching, it's just language change.
The Subjunctive is going the way of "thou", replaced by auxiliary verb constructions.

And just to nit-pick, the auxiliary verbs mark ASPECT (Progressive and Perfective) and MOOD (Subjunctive "should", Conditional "could", Possibilitive "can", Purposive "will", etc), not tense. English only has 2 tenses, Past and Non-Past, the so-called "Future" is not a tense, but a "purposive" mood
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-26-10 05:11 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. I beg to disagree.
Grammar is almost entirely untaught in this country, other than what students who take a foreign language get in that language.

I know that a lot of the misusages that make me crazy are really language change in action, but the change is vastly speeded up when the native speakers never learn any of the actual rules.

I remember fussing at my sister many years ago that she did not correct her children (quite young at the time) when they used a wrong construction or made a grammatical error. She said, "Oh, they'll learn it just by listening to me." Well, they didn't. Every single grammatical error and misuse they had at age 5 they still have in their mid-twenties.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-26-10 08:03 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. That is simply incorrect. Language change is an unstoppable process.
We learn our instinctive, natural language usage in early childhood, that determines how we naturally speak in informal environments. I almost never use "whom" and usually use "me and X" subjects even though I know that is "wrong" in the formal language, you can drill grammar into people's heads as much as you want, it will simply not change people's natural speaking habits.
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-27-10 11:30 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. Yes, I understand that language change is
an unstoppable process.

But I am pointing out that when grammar, in any form at all, is not taught, the entire notion of correct or proper usage disappears. And I'm not trying to force outdated usages -- I got into an interesting battle with my freshman English teacher in high school who insisted that the correct past tense for "I will not" is "I shan't", a form that even then (1962) hadn't been in common usage for about 40 years.

You at least seem aware of what's "correct" and what isn't. A blissful unawareness leads to truly careless usage of the language which not only marks someone as ignorant -- which really does matter more than many people think -- but worse yet, leads to incomprehensibility.

In a related matter, I'm curious: Do you think Shakespeare should be "translated" into modern English for students today, or do you think it should be left unsullied, which means it simply can't be understood without extensive notes and explanations.
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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-27-10 04:30 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. I think it should be translated so it can be understood.
Edited on Sun Jun-27-10 04:35 PM by Odin2005
it is a shame people in non-English speaking countries can understand Shakespeare better than we can because it is translated into the modern form of the local language, while we are stuck trying to real the original Early Modern English. IMO forcing students to real the original Early Modern English turns people off from what are really amazing stories. Seriously, if you don't like Hamlet you are nuts!

Oh, and as for "shan't", that's still in use in some parts of Scotland and Ireland. And the traditional rules for using shall and will were completely made up, there is no grammatical basis for "shall" being "the correct" form in the 1st person. "Shall" is simply future imperative form in real English.
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-27-10 06:12 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. I didn't know :"shan't" was still
in use. It wasn't fifty years ago in the parts of the U.S. I'd been living in.

I get into interesting discussions with English teachers, most of whom staunchly defend not translating Shakespeare.
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