In the Mood

It has been indicated by highly qualified representatives with compelling signs on their front yards that we live in an age of Science. As I understand it, today’s Scientific Method, an evolved offspring of the Enlightenment Era’s model, is an empirical method of acquiring social ghost-knowledge, whose rigorous dogmas are roughly as follows: Conjure Issue, React Violently, Subvert Data, Hunt for Justification, and Terminate All Opposers. I have never claimed to be a member of the scientific community, but I should like perhaps to venture a contrary assertion.

Many English-speakers, much as the ultracrepidarian proposes to know any and all, are too willing to impose upon others the indicative mood, which suggests far too much certainty. Other languages have not deteriorated as far. Luckily a more scientific mood exists.

English’s subjunctive mood is a verbal form that, in main contrast to the indicative mood’s indication of certain information, denotes what is imagined, wished, asserted, exhorted, proposed, or otherwise expresses possibility or hypothesis. 

The subjunctive mood may be achieved in a few ways.

The use of be and were instead of the indicative forms, am/is/are/was:

Indicative mistake: If it is in the interest of the court, I’d like to sell my lawn mower to the witness.

Subjunctive: If it be in the interest of the court, I’d like to refuse the prosecutor’s offer. 

Indicative Mistake: If I was to accuse the witness of passing up a perfectly good lawn mower, would your honor find merit in it?

Subjunctive: If you were to accuse the witness at all, I would doubt your sense of honor in the main.

The absence of the final -s in the third-person singular tense:

Indicative Mistake: If Gordon’s doctor were again to refuse treatment, then I suggest he sees a medicine man. 

Subjunctive: If Gordon’s doctor were again to refuse treatment, then I suggest he see another medical professional.

The subjunctive form may also inhabit the following patterns:

After As If/ As Though. 

  • As if the possession of money were a kind of curse, he eschewed work altogether. 
  • Feeling as though he were the target of a workplace harassment, Jimmy began to air indiscriminately personal grievances at what was previously a dispassionate meeting about third-quarter federal tax reductions. 

After That-clauses (following a verb connoting suggestion)

  • This minor indiscretion suggests that Jimmy be either very stressed or very bad at interpreting metrics. 
  • He insisted that Natalia sit across from him.
  • That she were a Soviet Sleeper Agent was entirely unknown to him, but her legs were otherwise.

Be/Were at the head of a clause

  • Were I to get drunk this evening, I might find temporary satisfaction about my state with kings.
  • Be they Christian or otherwise, I shall still give them a proper good kicking.
  • I might have done a better job with the heart surgery, were I a qualified surgeon. 

And here are a few familiar, according to Fowler, “fossilized clauses” that express a wish, “whose realization depends on conditions beyond the power or control of the speaker”/writer. 

  • Be that as it may
  • So be it
  • Come what may
  • Far be it from me to
  • God forbid
  • God save the Queen
  • The powers that be
  • So be it

Suffice it to say that.

For further enquires as regards the subjunctive mood, you may contact my recently qualified representative, Tristan Farnon.

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