Posted by languageandgrammar on December 30, 2012
By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever and Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and Oddities
We’ve written about the subjunctive a couple of times (Subjunctive Uses Were, Not Was and I Wish I Was Wrong, But I’m Not), so this is a more philosophical post on the topic.
The subjunctive is used when we wish things were different from the way they actually are, and based on what I see in life, that seems to be how we live our lives–wishing things were different.
It’s December 30, meaning that New Year’s Day has not arrived yet, but the stores are brimming with candy and decorations for Valentine’s Day. A local grocery store even has candy out for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter!
I know that retailers need to plan ahead and get merchandise ready to sell, but we, as a society, seem obsessed with whatever is next, as if whatever is now is not good enough.
The reason Christmas is only a six-week obsession is that Thanksgiving slows down the train a little, but it’s depressing to me to start thinking about spring already. Winter just started. Sure, maybe people don’t like the weather as much as I do, but still, we don’t have to subjunctive our lives away!
(Image from http://heiditunnellcatering.com/st-patricks-day/)
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Posted by languageandgrammar on October 11, 2010
By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever
Sherry previous wrote about the subjunctive mood (Subjunctive Uses Were Not Was) a while ago, but I recently wrote about it on my writing tips for my job at Penn State: I Wish I Was Wrong, But I’m Not, so I thought I’d link to it here since it’s such a common error.
Posted in grammar, language, writing | Tagged: grammar, I wish I was, I wish I were, language, subjunctive, subjunctive error, was versus were, writing | Comments Off on I Wish I Was Wrong, But I’m Not: More on Subjunctive
Posted by languageandgrammar on July 13, 2009
Verbs can have one of three moods: indicative, imperative, or subjunctive.
The indicative mood only includes verbs in sentences that are either statements (declarative sentences) or questions (interrogative sentences).
- It is unfortunate that more people do not live their lives in the spirit of The Golden Rule.
- Why don’t more people live their lives in the spirit of The Golden Rule?
Sentences of either command or strong request are sentences in which the verb is in the imperative mood. Often, the subject of an imperative mood sentence is not written into the sentence but, rather, is an implied “you.”
- Stop interrupting me!
- Be careful up there.
The subjunctive mood is used for several things:
1) When saying something that is contrary to fact; that is, when using verbs of wishing or wanting, use the subjunctive.
2) When one part of the sentence holds true only if the first part of the sentence occurs, use the subjunctive.
- If he were taller, then he’d be president.
3) When the sentence is a recommendation, use the subjunctive.
- The committee recommends that you be dismissed immediately.
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Posted by languageandgrammar on February 7, 2008
Colin Cowherd, January 22, 2008, talking about Tony Dungy coaching in Indianapolis while his family is living in Tampa: If I was a columnist in Indianapolis, I would write about that story. Well, even though I like his show and sense of humor, since Cowherd was obviously passing judgment on Dungy’s lifestyle, I feel comfortable passing judgment on Cowherd’s grammar.
When describing something that is contrary to what is true, you cannot use the regular ol’ past tense of the verb to be, which is what the radio host does here (was). You must, instead, use the subjunctive. The subjunctive is necessary in many situations, but I’ll discuss two of them here: with the verb to wish (which always expresses what is contrary to fact) and with the word if when it is expressing something that is contrary to fact.
In the above example, Cowherd says If I was a columnist in Indianapolis…, but he is not a columnist in Indianapolis, so that’s an example of using if to express something that is contrary to fact. Therefore, using the past tense—was—is incorrect. He should’ve used the subjunctive: If I were a columnist, I would write about that story.
When using the subjunctive, the form of the verb to be is were, regardless of the subject. Here are some other examples.
I wish I were a columnist in Indianapolis. (not I wish I was a columnist)
If she were a columnist in Indianapolis, then she wouldn’t live in Tampa. (not If she was a columnist)
He wishes that he were a columnist in Indianapolis. (not He wishes that he was a columnist)
If it weren’t 1000 miles from Tampa to Indianapolis, then there would be no story. (not If it wasn’t 1000 miles)
If he was too critical of Dungy’s living arrangements, then he’s probably sorry. (Here, was is correct because this statement is not necessarily contrary to fact; he may very well have been too critical, so we use the regular ol’ past tense.)
If I was listening to Cowherd’s show, then it must’ve been Monday morning. (I may very well have been listening to Cowherd’s show, so was is correct.)
Again, just remember that you use the subjunctive when you’re talking about something that is definitely contrary to fact.
Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever
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