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Joined: February 27, 2014
Comments posted: 13
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@Brus - You rewrite my sentence by scattering a few commas around in it: "the subjunctive is the ultimate polish, which, once mastered, allows the user the right finally to claim that he has learned the language."
It's not just a few commas, it's the logic of the language and its structure.
I would be very surprised about the excellent level of your English writing if you are not a native speaker of English, but quite curious about the way you approach the subjunctive mood if you are a native speaker.
March 1, 2014, 11:18am
@ Warsaw Will - If I'm not so sure about my course of action I'd use 'could, may' or 'might', but not 'would'
Agree that most people would do this, but not all, especially when accompanied with the if clause.
@ Warsaw Will - "If I won" (with real past meaning) show no such uncertainty.
Depends on what you would win, if it's a lottery, as the chance of winning is so slim, even when the if clause has the real past meaning, "If I won" does show some sort of uncertainty. But anyway, you still have a chance to win when if clause refers to the real past meaning, so it's not imaginary present.
@ Warsaw Will - I'm really only interested in how conditionals are used in everyday life, not weird and wonderful scenarios where the interpretation is stretched to the limit,...
That's why I disagree with the "I can't remember if I was the prime minister" scenario. The lottery winning context I thought of, is not that common in daily life, but not very weird and wonderful. So the difficulty for a teacher lies in how you would teach. This is extremely true when it comes to the subjunctive teaching in ESL. I find myself in good agreement with Brus in the fact that "the subjunctive is, as the conversation above indicates, complex and not to be covered in too much hurry"
March 1, 2014, 10:15am
@Brus - the subjunctive is the ultimate polish which once mastered allows the user the right finally to claim that he has learned the language.
In order to learn the language, it seems to me there is a lot more to master than the subjunctive, which includes the distinction between "that" and "which". Other than the questions asked in the last post, I would read the above sentence as:
"the subjunctive is the ultimate polish, which, once mastered, allows the user the right finally to claim that he has learned the language."
To be honest, it's a bit complicated sentence.
February 28, 2014, 9:46pm
Brus - the subjunctive is the ultimate polish which once mastered allows the user the right finally to claim that he has learned the language.
Should it be "which (is) once mastered"? Can you master a polish? Or the craft of polishing?
February 28, 2014, 9:03pm
@Sundy - Though I would have to agree that your interpretation works in your proposed context, but that's not an usual context.
Keep in mind that I have said this already.
If I say "If I was the prime minister, I'd change the law" to my colleagues tomorrow, how would they interpret? Sure, "If I was the prime minister" will be taken as imaginary assumption, which is far more common than your context.
@Brus - You allow that I could give (you) poor marks of English (sic), and indeed I I fear I must.
I don't really care about what you must do. But we are discussing the logic behind a language, not anything else.
February 28, 2014, 8:51pm
would" works as well in 'If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new house', in which "would" implies that there is less possibility of buying a new house as other factors may come into play.
February 28, 2014, 8:20pm
@ Warsaw Will - Well, we would in British English at least. I know Americans don't use present perfect as much as us, but if it's a real condition, you'd (they'd) still use 'will' in the result clause.
I would think simple past tense also works here. When there has been no change to the situation since the time that the past tense indicates, simple past would mean the same as the present perfect. This is the reason why American tends to use simple past in many contexts where this condition is met.
"would" works as well in 'If I've won the lottery, I'd buy a new house', in which "would" implies that there is less possibility of buying a new house as other factors may come into play.
@ Warsaw Will - "Ideally, it would be perfect if we could create a subjunctive form of verb for every verb in English" - that would be to reverse history and go against what you were saying earlier.
Look at the last part of what I was saying: "which, however, would result in an unrealistic and unpractical situation, too many forms of verbs."
@ Warsaw Will - "If he managed to finish that report last night, we'll be able to get it to everyone today".
In a context where typing the report may need to be done by another person as "he" was only the report writer, "we'd be..." works, especially when typing may take some time.
February 28, 2014, 8:18pm
@ Warsaw Will - My point, though, is that Unreal past (subjunctive, for those who prefer it) is exactly the same as Real Past for all verbs except one, and for only two persons of that one verb, 1st and 3rd singular of 'be'. I can see no logical reason why a different form is thought necessary for those two persons of one verb when we have absolutely no confusion in all other cases. It might sound more refined, but that's about all.
Yes, there is no logical reason that a different form is necessary for only two persons of that one verb, 1st and 3rd singular of 'be'. In Chinese, there are no such forms of verbs, only one fixed form for every verb. But subjunctive is a mood existing in every language, I guess. In Chinese, there are other words that explicitly propose an imaginary situation, something like " listen up: I am doing daydreaming now, I am the prime minister, I will change the law." Of course, these words are quite different in a sense that they can express different emotions or moods.
Humans have so much confusion in conversational communication in terms of the language itself. English works in its own way. Ideally, it would be perfect if we could create a subjunctive form of verb for every verb in English, which, however, would result in an unrealistic and unpractical situation, too many forms of verbs. The problem now is that the verb needs a form in a sentence in expressing subjunctive mood, which will definitely confuse with other forms of verbs such as past and future tenses. Luckily, the context where the conversation is taking place will resolve the ambiguity. That's why I would expect that even "I was you" would substitute "if I were you" in the future, as the assumption of "I am you " will be never truthful in our context of human's world.
February 28, 2014, 6:53pm
@ Warsaw Will - "If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new house" - can you put a different interpretation on that?
Yes. Assume this context:
You were so tired and went to bed last night before the lottery winning numbers showed on TV. In the morning after you get out of bed, you hold your lottery ticket in hand, ticking it in front of your wife, saying:
"If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new house."
You are referring to the real past. But since your wife doesn't know you didn't have a chance to check the number as usual, she interprets "if I won the lottery" as to refer to the present, hence meaning an imaginary situation.
She then might say to you : "Don't keep daydreaming."
You further explain: "I didn't have a chance to check the number as I went to bed earlier last night. I still have a chance to win." So now she understands that "if won the lottery" means a real condition.
The context is a key.
February 28, 2014, 6:26pm
You go on the street and ask the ordinary people how they would feel if somebody says he /she can’t remember if he/she was the prime minister before. People would say: “it’s a bit wired. I would never forget if I was once the prime minister.” So when you say to, again, ordinary people that “if I was the prime minister,..” you would be taken as to mean an imaginary situation of being the prime minister.
Demotic usage based on their contexts determines the life of a language, eventually, not the contexts thought of by linguists in pure linguistics.
February 28, 2014, 2:44pm
@ Brus - "I used to be prime minister, you know".
Does this mean "I" can't remember I was prime minister? No, it just means that I am not the prime minister, but I used to be.
@ Brus - Well, Sundy, it may not be usual for someone to develop dementia but it happens. Besides all that, the point under discussion is a linguistic one.
Putting the context in the language would make more sense than to discuss purely linguistic instances. I am emphasizing "purely" here.
Though I would have to agree that your interpretation works in your proposed context, but that's not an usual context. Why did some expressions in a language die out? One of the reasons is that there is a lack of contexts in life to fit in.
Trust me, "if I was you" will become more common as it means the same thing as "if I were you" since by no way, no mean, the assumption of "I am you" would become true.
@ Brus -On another linguistic point, what does this mean: "You are kind of trust your girl friend on that she wouldn’t do this ... "? You wrote it. No need to call the police, but it scores poor marks for English, I feel.
You could give me poor marks of English, but not poor marks of language and how a language works.
I wanted to edit my post after submission, but I couldn't. I may have to change it to "you kind of trust your girl friend that she wouldn’t do this ..."
February 28, 2014, 2:20pm
@Warsaw Will - of course you're right, which is why, in EFL, we refer to this as the Unreal past. We only have to compare it with any other verb - 'If he acted like that at my party, I'd throw him out' - this can only be about an unreal event in the present / future - the 'would' in the result clause tells us that. If it was about the past, we'd use a past or present tense in the result clause, as in the cad example (which seems to be very popular in the States).
The context is very important in understanding the subjunctive sentences.
'If he acted like that at my party, I'd throw him out' - this can only be about an unreal event in the present / future - the 'would' in the result clause tells us that. If it was about the past, we'd use a past or present tense in the result clause, …
This may be not true depending on various context. First, this can be about the past as in this context:
You held a big party at your big home with dozens of people attending, where you were very busy all over the place, even without paying attention to your girl friend. Now the next day after the party, one of your best friends tells you that he saw your another friend was trying to impress your girl friend by chatting with her in a small room on the second floor. You are kind of trust your girl friend on that she wouldn’t do this which is seen as inappropriate at your party. But this is what your best friend is telling you, so you might think that your best friend was just mistaking another girl for your girl friend. You might say to your friend:
You might have mistaken another girl for my girl friend, but 'If he acted like that at my party, I'd throw him out' – “I’d “means the future here while 'If he acted like that at my party’ refers to the past, so the whole sense implies that if “he acted like that at my party” is to be proven, when I see him I would throw him out. Please note that “out” here has changed not to mean “my party”, instead, the surrounding where you would meet him when you throw him.
So we have to look at the context (scenario) in interpreting subjunctive sentences. Without doing this it would let the argument keep going and going forever.
@ Brus - No it isn't. It is easy and simple: I am informed (by anyone at all) that this national misfortune has occurred, and I as the speaker am declaring that it should not have been allowed (if indeed it was - the indicative mood of the verb "was" rather than "were" means it is treated by me as an open condition, which is to say that I accept it is possible that I was prime minister at one time, but I can't remember). If I wished to indicate disbelief in such a preposterous assertion I would use a closed conditional clause, denoted by the subjunctive form of the verb: "were".
I would be very nervous if you say that “I accept it is possible that I was prime minister at one time, but I can't remember”. Or if I am serious enough, I may call the police to take you to hospital for an overall medical checkup. You can’t forget if you were once the prime minister some time ago unless there is a medical problem. So this is not an usual context.
February 28, 2014, 12:27pm
@goofyIf I was the Prime Minister, I would change the law.If I were the Prime Minister, I would change the law.Don't both of these sentences refer to unreal present events? If I can't remember if I was Prime Minister, I would be talking about a past event. I might say:If I had been the Prime Minister, I would have changed the law.orI can't remember if I was the Prime Minister.
It’s common sense that only the current Prime Minister would have the power to change the law, so the clause “if I was the Prime Minister” refers to the present, since there is no logical connection between being the former Prime Minister and changing the law if you are saying that you were Prime Minister before. But who is the Prime Minister is a fact, in this context, not the speaker, which is true without any subjective judgment, making “if I was the Prime Minister” is a counterfactual supposition. So in this context, “if I was the Prime Minister” and “if I were the Prime Minister” mean basically the same thing.
@BrusIf I was the Prime Minister, I would change the law." This to me suggests that I am surprised and doubtful to hear that I was sometime in the past the Prime Minister, find it hard perhaps to believe that such an thing could have been allowed, and if it is true, would want someone to change the law, maybe to prevent such a calamity in the future.The logic doesn’t stand. You are linking the assumption of being the Prime Minister in the past to the change of law which would be made to happen in the future. Who would the speaker be talking to? It’s hard and complicated to find such a context that would fit in here.
(I have, of course, by the way, no particular prime minister in recent history in mind.)"If I were the Prime Minister, ..." has a totally different meaning, that I want the law changed and if I could I would, but I can't so I shan't because I am in fact not the Prime Minister. Which one do you mean?@goofyYour sentence "If I was a hopeless cad, I apologize" refers to a past event, so it's not the same context as my examples.Would you ever use "if I was" in exactly the same context as "if I were"? Would you say this:"If I was a hopeless cad, I would apologize.""If I was a hopeless cad” could refer to a past event too, even in "If I was a hopeless cad, I would apologize". The reason behind is that whether or not you are a hopeless cad depends on the criteria of judgment of the person you are speaking to, involving subjective factor. This is not falling in the same category as being the Prime Minister.
February 27, 2014, 1:06pm
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