Posted by: Linda Proud | February 4, 2008

Endangered species – the subjunctive

Just because a book is written for the ‘commerical’ market doesn’t mean we can assume that readers are a bit thick and will be put off by good English. Whether the use of the subjunctive is disappearing because of this idea or just through sheer ignorance, I don’t know. If I was taught it at school, I forgot about it, but it was brought specifically to my attention by a mentor concerned about my development as a writer. The use of the subjunctive lends a beautiful quality to language. Examples include such sweet phrases as ‘be that as it may’ or ‘would that I could’. Briefly it is used when expressing a wish or a possibility, that is, not an absolute. For example: ‘I wish my brother were here’ (not was). There’s not a single example of the use of the subjunctive in the seven hundred papages of Labyrinth. It is not an easy aspect of grammar to master, but it’s worth the effort to develop an ear for it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all sentences beginning with ‘if’ will take the subjunctive: there are exceptions. My third sentence in this piece, for example, is correct, although I have no idea why.

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