English Writing - The Subjunctive Mood...
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An outdated grammar rule: the subjunctive. Let's trash it.By Guest Writer Laraine Anne Barker
How many times as a child was I puzzled when a singular pronoun suddenly turned plural. Why, I wondered, should it be "If I were you?"
Well, it's simply because we're in the subjunctive mood.
"So what on earth," I hear you ask, "is the subjunctive mood? It sounds like a form of deep depression!"
Frankly, that's a good way to describe the effect it has on me. It pulls me right out of the story. Anything that pulls a reader out of a story has to be a bad thing. If it also puzzles a child reader, it's a positive crime.
The subjunctive mood is quite simply a form of the verb when a writer stops dealing with real things about which we can argue ("The King is alive", "Mary is here") and starts dealing with uncertainties such as wishes, commands and unreal circumstances ("Long live the King", "if only Mary were here"). We're so accustomed to "If I were you" that it doesn't sound so odd-- though it baffled me as a child; nobody ever explained why I was suddenly (and impossibly) more than one person.
The subjunctive is an outdated grammar rule that should have died a natural death a long time ago. I'm convinced it's only the extreme pedantry of editors of children's books that has kept it alive. It has no plausible reason for its existence in the 21st century. I found the following (from Margaret Mahy's Underrunners--a book riddled with subjunctives) positively pompous.
There's another good reason for killing off the subjunctive mood: too many writers use it incorrectly:
Examples of incorrect use from published books--incorrect because the sentences are not in the subjunctive mood:
Any editor who dares suggests I turn a pronoun (or proper noun) into plural just because I am using the subjunctive mood is in for a hard fight with me.
Laraine Anne Barker writes fantasy for young people. Visit her web site for free stories and novel excerpts. Sign up for the Novella of the Month Club, absolutely free! © L A Barker Enterprises.
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