The problems of the Subjunctive Mood in English
Federal Agency on education
State educational institution of vocational training
College of Optics and Electronics
«The problems of the Subjunctive Mood in English»
Федеральное агентство по образованию по образованию
Государственное образовательное учреждение среднего профессионального образования
Красногорский оптико-электронный колледж
«Проблемы сослагательного наклонения в английском языке»
1. The Subjunctive Mood?
1.1 Foreign linguists’ speculations about the Subjunctive Mood
1.2 The Subjunctive Mood from the point of view of the representatives of the Russian linguistic school
2. The main cases of the use of the Subjunctive Mood in English
3. The use of The Subjunctive Mood in the works of English and American writers
There are many controversial and not thoroughly investigated points in the English grammar. Nevertheless, in my opinion one of the most difficult and not clear both from the point of view of its definition and description and from the point of view of its practical implementation in speech is the subject of the Subjunctive Mood. Even the name of this grammatical category seems ambiguous in term of its being approached and characterized by different outstanding linguists in our country and abroad.
No wonder this problem couldn’t but arise my curiosity and language interest. I have made up my mind to consider the material compiled on this problem in different sources to clear up the point for myself and to have a better idea about the usage of the Subjunctive Mood in speech.
I will learn more information about points of views of English and Russian grammarians. It is very interesting for me to know how English linguists understand problem of The Subjunctive Mood and what way Russian ones do it. I will also introduce the most important point of my diploma paper – the usage of the Subjunctive Mood. I want to learn in what cases we should use the Subjunctive Mood.
Thus the object of my paper is the Subjunctive Mood itself.
The subject of my diploma paper is the Subjunctive Mood in the works of foreign and Russian grammar schools as well as the main cases of the Subjunctive Mood usage.
The aim of my diploma paper is to compare different approaches to the problem of the Subjunctive Mood with the purpose of investigating the material available for me about the Subjunctive Mood from English and Russian sources.
My diploma paper consists of three chapters: in the 1st chapter I consider different approaches to the Subjunctive Mood understanding both in our country and abroad. In the 2nd chapter I present the main cases of the Subjunctive Mood use and perform the results obtained. There is a conclusion too. To write my diploma paper I used the works of the outstanding English grammarians, such as: H. Sweet, G.O. Curme, O. Jespersen and Russian scholars: V. Kaushanskaya, V. Vinogradov. You can see the names of their works in the list of literature, on page 25, and the information from Internet.
The 3d chapter represents my practical contribution into the problem of the Subjunctive Mood. In this chapter I analyze the use of the Subjunctive Mood by some English and American writers and draw the conclusion based on the material collected.
The literary sources are given as supplementary material after Bibliography.
1. The Subjunctive Mood?
Foreign linguists’ speculations about the Subjunctive Mood
As we shall further see there is no unity on the Subjunctive Mood among the world famous foreign grammarians. I would like to dwell on the views of the most outstanding linguists.
By the moods of a verb H. Sweet in his work «A new English Grammar (Part I)» understands grammatical forms expressing different relations between subject and predicate. Thus, if a language has special forms to express commands as distinguished from statements, we include the forms that express command under the term «imperative mood». Thus in English come! is in the imperative mood, while the statement he comes is in the «indicative» mood.
In English the only inflectional moods are the indicative and subjunctive. But the inflections of the English verb are so scanty that we need not be surprised to find that the distinction between indicative and subjunctive is very slight. The only regular inflection by which the subjunctive is distinguished from the indicative in English is that of the third person singular present, which drops the s of the indicative (he sees) in the subjunctive (he see). In the verb to be, however, further distinctions are made: indicative I am, he is, he was, subjunctive I be, he be, he were, although in the spoken language the only distinction that is still kept us is that between was and were. Consequently the sense of the distinction in function between subjunctive and indicative has almost died out in English, and use the subjunctive were only in combination with other mood-forms, the other subjunctive inflections surviving only in a few special phrases and constructions, such as God, save the Queen!, where the subjunctive expresses wish, being thus equivalent to the Greek optative.
The few distinction that English makes between fact-statements and thought-statements are mainly expressed, not by inflections, but by auxiliaries (periphrastic moods), and by peculiar uses of tense-distinctions. The following are the auxiliary forms:
The combination of should and would with the infinitive – the conditional mood.
The combination of may and its preterite might with the infinitive is called the permissive mood.
The combination of the finite forms of the verb to be with the supine is called compulsive mood.
We use tenses to express thought-statements in the hypothetical clauses of conditional sentences, as in if I knew his address I would write him; if it were possible I would do it. In the latter example the hypothesis is shown not only by the preterite tense, but also by the subjunctive inflection, which is really superfluous. When a thought-statement is expressed by a tense in this way, H. Sweet calls it a tense-mood. Were in if it were is a subjunctive tense-mood.
As we see, in some conditional sentences all three ways of expressing thought-statement are used.
G.O. Curme in the work «A Grammar of the English Language» considers moods as the changes in the form of the verb to show the various ways in which the action or state is thought of by the speaker.
There are two moods:
Indicative Mood. This form represents something as a fact, or as in close relation with reality, or in interrogative form inquires after a fact.
Subjunctive Mood. The function of the subjunctive mood is to represent something, not as an actual reality, but as formed in the mind of the speaker as a desire, wish, volition, plan, conception, thought; something with more or less hope of realization, or, in the case of a statement, with more or less belief, sometimes with little or no hope or faith.
The various meanings may be classified under two general heads – the optative subjunctive and the potential subjunctive. The optative subjunctive represents something as desired, demanded, required. The potential subjunctive marks something as a mere conception of the mind, but at the same time represents it as something that may probably be or become a reality or on the other hand as something that is contrary to fact.
H. Whitehall in the work «Structural Essentials of English» says that Mood (or mode) establishes the speaker’s or writer’s mood about the actuality of a happening. The indicative mood indicates that what he says must be regarded as a fact, i.e., as having occurred or as occurring; the so-called subjunctive mood implies that he is doubtful or uncertain about its occurrence.
Although the subjunctive is gradually dying out of the language, English is rich in devices for expressing one’s psychological moods toward happenings that are imaginary.
Our apparatus for expressing mood suggests that in the use of verb word-groups, the speaker’s or writer’s mental attitudes are of great importance.
Many grammarians enumerate the following moods in English, etc.: indicative, subjunctive, imperative, infinitive, and participle. O. Jespersen as it can be seen from «The Philosophy of Grammar» considers that infinitives and participles cannot be coordinated with the others, and we shall therefore in this chapter deal with the first three moods only. These are sometimes called fact-mood, thought-mood, and will-mood respectively. But they do not express different relations between subject and predicate. It is much more correct to say that they express certain attitudes of the mind of the speaker towards the contents of the sentence.
O. Jespersen in his work «A modern English Grammar» presents forms of the Subjunctive Mood in the table:
|For expressing unreal action, simultaneous or planning action towards now||For expressing unreal action, past towards now|
I. I should
he, she, it would do
we should be doing
you would be done
he, she, it do
we would be doing
you be done
he, she, it do
we should be doing
you be done
he, she, it
we be, did, were
would have done
should have been doing
would have been doing
would have been doing
have been doing
should have been doing
have been doing
The Subjunctive Mood from the point of view of the representatives of the Russian linguistic school
The category of mood in the present English verb has given rise to so many discussions, and has been treated in so many different ways, that it seems hardly possible to arrive at any more or less convincing and universally acceptable conclusion concerning it. Indeed, the only points in the sphere of mood which have not so far been disputed seem to be these: there is a category of mood in Modern English; there are at least two moods in the modern English verb, one of which is the Subjunctive. These points were discussed not only by English grammarians, but Russian grammarians too.
Academician V. Vinogradov in his work «Russian Language» gave the definition of the category of mood: «Mood expresses the relation of the action to reality, as stated by the speaker.»
The relations between meaning and form will be expressed by two different series of external signs.
The first of these two points may be illustrated by sequence we should come, which means one thing in the sentence I think we should come here again tomorrow; it means another thing in the sentence if we knew that he wants us we should come to see him, and it means another thing again in the sentence How queer that we should come at the very moment when you were talking about us! In a similar way, several meanings may be found in the sequence he would come in different contexts.
The second of the two points may be illustrated by comparing the two sentences, I suggest that he go and I suggest that he should go, and we will for the present neglect the fact that the first of the two variants is more typical of American, and the second of British English.
Matters are still further complicated by two phenomena where we are faced with a choice between polysemy and homonymy. One of these concerns forms like lived, knew, etc. Such forms appear in two types of contexts, of which one may be exemplified by the sentences, He lived here five years ago, or I knew it all along, and the other by the sentences If he lived here he would come at once, or, If I knew his address I should write to him.
In sentences of the first type the form obviously is the past tense of the indicative mood. The second type admits of two interpretations: either the form lived, knew, etc. are the same forms of the past indicative that were used in the first type, but they have acquired another meaning in this particular context, or else the forms lived, knew, etc. are forms of the past indicative but are basically different.
There is another peculiar complication in the analysis of mood. The question is, what verbs are auxiliaries of Mood in Modern English? The verbs should and would are auxiliaries expressing unreality. But the question is less clear with the verb may when used in such sentences as Come closer that I may hear what you say. Is the group may hear some mood form of the verb hear, or is it a free combination of two verbs, thus belonging entirely to the field of syntax, not morphology? The same question may be asked about the verb may in such sentences as May you be happy! Where it is part of a group used to express a wish, and is perhaps a mood auxiliary. We ought to seek an objective criterion which would enable us to arrive at a convincing conclusion.
All these considerations, varied as they are, make the problem of mood in Modern English extremely difficult to solve and they seem to show in advance that no universally acceptable solution can be hoped for in a near future. Those proposed so far have been extremely unlike each other. Owning to the difference of approach to moods, grammarians have been vacillating between two extremes – 3 moods (indicative, subjunctive and imperative), put forward by many grammarians, and 16 moods, as proposed by M. Deutschbein. Between these extremes there are intermediate views, such as that of Prof. A. Smirnitsky, who proposed a system of 6 moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive I, subjunctive II, suppositional, and conditional), and who was followed in this respect by M. Ganshina and N. Vasilevskaya.
If we look through the meaning of the mood forms, we obtain the following headings:
|Meaning||Means of expression|
Inducement (order, request, prayer, and the like)
Possibility (action thought of as conditionally possible, or as purpose of another action, etc.)