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Which sound “normal” to you?

A) Must we have fish for dinner again?

B) Shall we have to have fish for dinner again?

C) Will we have to have fish for dinner again?

D) Do we have to have fish for dinner again?

Accepting that (D) is by far the commonest utterance and would express annoyance or lament. roughly the same as “I wish we weren’t having fish again”, my concern is with the other options, particularly (B) which looks “grammatical” but just sounds odd to me. (A) is less common today but seems to go back a long way whereas “have to” is relatively modern, so which sound “normal” to you?

  • March 31, 2014
  • Posted by jayles
  • Filed in Style

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Perhaps "Aw f**k, not fish again!" would be the most common reaction. :-))

Of the four options you list I'd go for A with D a close second, although I do feel that "have to have" sounds a bit stilted.
To me B and C don't really convey any annoyance or lament.

Hairy Scot April 7, 2014 @ 7:49PM

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D sounds the most natural and followed by A.

B sounds strange with shall, but if I remember correctly, "shall" is the "will" of first person pronouns. I agree that B doesn't sit well on the tongue, but it might just be archaic. C, however, can convey annoyance depending on intonation.

Jasper April 8, 2014 @ 1:18AM

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I'd go with A and D. A is a bit more formal. D is a bit more everyday.

B and C both sound unnatural, and certainly not standard English (UK or NAm) to my ears.

dave April 8, 2014 @ 1:44AM

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For me, A definitely expresses annoyance: I think we'd stress 'must'. D could go either way, depending on whether we stress 'have'. C is fairly neutral for me, simply asking about a fact.

Although a Brit getting on in years who sometimes uses 1st person shall interchangeably with will - 'We shall just have to see, won't we?' - B doesn't seem very natural to me - and I think the reason is that 'shall we' is usually used for making and asking for suggestions, not for questions of fact - 'Shall we go out tonight?', 'What shall we do next?'.

Incidentally, in the whole of the web, Google only finds 5 examples of 'Shall we have to have', one of which is this page. The other three get millions, although C gets about half of A and D.

Warsaw Will April 13, 2014 @ 6:35AM

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@WW cf New Headway Intermediate workbook Unit 4 section 2 Item 9 : answer is given as "will we have to" : why can't we say 'shall we have to' - "because people don't" - and so on...

jayles April 13, 2014 @ 8:18PM

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@jayles - well, it's definite that people don't use it, but it would have been nice to know why. I presume that's where your original question came from; I 'll have a look at it next time I'm in the office. But if they say C is correct, are they saying the A and D are incorrect? Is there perhaps more context?

Warsaw Will April 14, 2014 @ 4:29AM

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@WW A and D are both fine and normal; there's no issue about that.
Context? well I think not.

jayles April 14, 2014 @ 6:35AM

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@WW just to be clear: B or C is not something I would choose to teach; (just grabbed the workbook to cover someone's class.) I think textbooks like to be seen to "cover" every possiblity. I doubt Englsh learners need to be able to produce C, when A and D are quite good enough.

jayles April 14, 2014 @ 7:02AM

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@jayles - I haven't checked it yet, but I'm still not clear: were they saying there was only one correct answer, or that one answer was incorrect.

I still maintain that there is a difference in meaning between A and D, and C, so I don't see C as a less common alternative to A and D. As you say, D expresses annoyance (or lament) and I would see A as simply a stronger version of that. But C seems to me simply a question of fact, without necessarily telling us about the viewpoint of the speaker, and I think it unlikely we would use this construction to express annoyance, even by stressing 'have'. Some examples from the British national Corpus:

Will we have to pay double?
Will we have to show them our work?
Will we have to elope?

There are only three for 'Must we', which all seem to suggest that the speaker would prefer the answer to be 'no':

Well must we have chicken?
Must we have slurping noises?
I mean the public is going to say we must have houses, we must have roads, must we have arts?

And here are a couple for 'do we have to' that also express annoyance:

Do we have to go through all that again!
Do we have to have him here in bed with us?

Warsaw Will April 14, 2014 @ 12:14PM

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@WW At present my understanding of the history/background here (and I may be wrong) is as follows:
in the beginning 'will','can', 'mote', 'shall', 'may' were past forms of prehistoric verbs (thats why there is no 3rd person 's') which acquired a present meaning.
Some time later a back-formed past tense was made-up, giving us 'would','could','must','should','might'. We still use this past (subjunctive) for politeness with present meaning.
In the case of 'must', 'mote' fell into disuse, so the past/present distinction was lost, so people started using 'have to', to cover the gaps; likewise 'be able to'.
The end result today is (well, a mess) overlapping meanings and usages. I think much of the meaning here in terms of annoyance/lament would come from context, intonatiion and emphasis, and not necessarily be rooted in choice of modal/auxiliary

jayles April 14, 2014 @ 6:20PM

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@jayles -I think perhaps we're a little at cross-purposes. I was asking whether Headway said that C was the only correct answer, and that in other words A and D were wrong.

I'm afraid I disagree that the past forms of modal verbs are subjunctive. It is true, according to Online Etymology, that in Old English wolde was both the past tense and the past subjunctive of willan (although it doesn't mention subjunctive for the others). But that is true of all verbs except for be - the past subjunctive is the same as past simple indicative - which is why we use past simple in unreal present conditionals, but (formally at least) the subjunctive of the only verb left that has a distinct past subjunctive - be.

If you compare these past modals with languages that use subjunctive quite a lot, such as French for example, they equate more to the conditional mood rather than to the subjunctive. (In fact 'could have done / would have done' are sometimes called the Conditional Perfect). English is not considered to have a Conditional Mood though, as these forms are not made by inflection, but by the use of auxiliaries.

Compare real and unreal present conditionals in English and French:

If you come, we'll go to the cinema.
Si tu viens, nous irons au cinéma - si + présent, futur simple (just like in English)

If you came, we would go to the cinema
Si tu venais, nous irions au cinéma - si + imparfait, conditionnel présent

This is from Wikipedia:

"The conditional mood is generally found in the independent clause (apodosis) of a conditional sentence, namely the clause that expresses the result of the condition, rather than the dependent clause (protasis) expressing the condition. The protasis will often use a different verb form, depending on the grammatical rules of the language in question, such as a past tense form or the subjunctive mood."

And it's the same with polite forms: these verbs are in conditionnel présent, not subjonctif:

Could you open the door? - Pourriez-vous ouvrir la porte?
I should be grateful if ... - Je vous serais reconnaissant si ...

As they say at French Wiki:

"Le conditionnel apporte un degré de politesse de plus par rapport au futur, lui-même plus poli que le présent."

The only possible connection with the subjunctive I can see is with 'should', but it's not normally called that. At Wikipedia they say:

'The auxiliary should is used to make another compound form which may be regarded as a subjunctive, and in any case is frequently used as an alternative to the simple present subjunctive. For example:

With present subjunctive: It's important that he be cured.
With should: It's important that he should be cured."

The use of present subjunctive is standard in American English, but considered very formal in British English, where we tend to prefer the version with should.

This page collecting just about every conceivable possible example of the subjunctive has been put together by a subjunctive fan, and has no examples that I can see of past modal forms being labelled as subjunctive:

For my sins, I've also written about the subjunctive, where I also speculate about should (mainly because of the possibility of inversion):

You're quite right about overlaps and the necessity to use other forms for past tenses and with other modals, for example. And it's very true that context and intonation make a big difference. Here's just a few different meanings for 'must':

You must tidy up your room immediately, before Granny comes.- obligation
You must turn it on first or it won't work. - necessity
He must be about forty, I would think. - speculation
You really must see this new film. - strong recommendation
Must you make so much noise while I'm on the phone? - expressing annoyance

This is close to my heart at the moment, as I'm working on a sort of Ready Reference on modals for my blog.

Warsaw Will April 15, 2014 @ 12:15PM

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@WW Sorry I didn't mean to suggest that 'would','could', 'might' etc were always subjunctive; just in polite phrases like:
"Would you like to.."
"Could you please..."
"Might I ask..."
Whether or not is of course wide open, but some explanation as to why these seem to be past forms with a present meaning might be helpful.
I do agree that "will you..." maps to "Voulez vous.." and "Would you .." to "Voudiriez vous..", although that's about the limit of my French.

One approach I like with modals to rewrite sentences with modal substitutes:
"Would you like a coffee?" becomes "May I invite you for a coffee?" (in Hungarian)
"You must turn it on first.." -> "It is essential to turn it on first.." and so on.

Secondly, as I understand it, in the "Advanced Learner" dictionaries, the most frequent meaning is put first in the list. "Will" has between nine and twenty seven usages depending on the dictionary. The challenge is to guess which usages are the commonest for each modal without looking first! "Must" always surprises me.

jayles April 15, 2014 @ 1:52PM

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@WW German closely follows the English patterns:

jayles April 15, 2014 @ 7:56PM

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@jayles - I'm sorry to harp on, but I simply don't accept they are subjunctive in polite phrases either; as I said, they equate to conditional mood in other languages, especially those that use subjunctive a lot, such as French or Spanish.

I did quite a lot or research into the subjunctive for my blog post, and the only place I've ever heard it suggested that 'would' or 'could' can be subjunctive is in these pages (and not only from you, I hasten to add). Subjunctive is not simply a feeling, but a fixed set of grammatical forms of lexical verbs, now really limited to present subjunctive - 'He asks that we be ready to leave at eight' , the past of be 'were' and a few set phrases such as 'Come what may' and 'Heaven forbid'.

I think that when wolde was a past subjunctive of willan, willan was a lexical verb with the meaning 'to will'. It still is occasionally, as in 'He willed it to happen' or the rather old-fashioned 'I would that he were here'. And in that second one, would is followed by the subjunctive, so can't itself be subjunctive, I would have thought.

But will and would are now almost always used as modal auxiliary verbs, and as far as I'm aware, modal auxiliaries don't have subjunctive forms.

Warsaw Will April 16, 2014 @ 4:49AM

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@WW my view is greatly influenced by German where "could you please" is most definitely subjunctive:

But then again I could be wrong.

in "The Lexical Approach" there is a section which debunks the "conditional" in English I think. It certainly does not exist as a mood in German.

jayles April 16, 2014 @ 6:31AM

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@jayles - OK, I give you that, and I can see you might be right in making the connection to Old English. All I'd say is that I've never seen could and would described as being subjunctive in English in any grammar book, but then I, too, could be wrong.

I certainly wasn't saying there was a conditional mood in English, but that would and could equate to the conditional mood in romance languages.

I have a funny feeling that the editors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language don't have much time for the subjunctive either, as in other languages subjunctive implies some sort of doubt, yet that it is certainly not how present subjunctive is used in English.

Anyway, I think this has probably run its course, and that we should just agree to differ.

Warsaw Will April 16, 2014 @ 3:35PM

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@WW No sweat. I guess, were it not for "The Few", we'd both be German subjunctives.

jayles April 16, 2014 @ 9:13PM

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@jayles :)

Warsaw Will April 17, 2014 @ 6:43AM

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E) Why can't we give up FISH for lent?
(personally, I love fish)

Liverwort April 17, 2014 @ 9:09AM

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