Is modern English poorer without a subjunctive mood?

When I was learning Italian grammar (some time ago now) I used to view the subjunctive mood as something of a nuisance. My feeling then was: why the heck do we need this? After all, English seems to do just fine without having any way to show the difference between a plain statement of fact and a subjective or doubtful kind of assertion or opinion.

But I now wonder whether, in actual fact, English (and other modern languages which have lost the subjunctive mood) have become somewhat “dumbed down”? I wonder whether as a result they are less well suited to - for example - academic writing or serious journalism?

One of the glorious things about Ancient Greek is the subtle and nuanced shades of expression which it allows. (I understand that even the imperative can make a distinction between a one-off command, and an instruction to do something on a continuing and on-going basis!) Italian may not be quite that subtle, but it still seems somewhat richer than English.

Of course there are other ways to express “subjunctivity” in modern English. For example, in the above sentence I said that Italian SEEMS somewhat richer than English (not quite the same as crudely asserting that it IS richer than English.)

But still, the more I learn about Ancient Greek, the more crude and unsophisticated some modern languages seem to be by comparison! :-0

What do other folks think about this?

I am so proud of our subjunctive and so sad to see more and more people can’t use it correctly. :frowning:

Ancient Greek had an additional mood, optative, which was absorbed by subjunctive in Latin.

I wonder if I am missing out by not knowing what ‘subjunctive’ actually means! :slight_smile:

Heaven forbid (and perish the thought) that the subjunctive be dropped from our language. If it were, it would inevitably lead to poorer English. Come what may, it shall remain ! Far be it from me to suggest, however, that it still be included in English grammar. Truth be told, I wish I knew. Suffice it to say that if I were you Jay, I would insist that everyone speak with subjunctive silliness. God save the Queen !

@guitario: Subjunctive mood - Wikipedia

@Jamie: Your post sounds so elegant and so unnatural at the same time. Some English tutors may mark it as “Unnatural usage”! :slight_smile:

Mike, I talk this way all the time in my town.

Really? Wow! If all English-speakers spoke like you, English would be much richer…

I’ve lived in lots of towns. The problem is, I keep getting run out of them as the locals don’t know what I’m talking about.


LOL Yeah, you kind of have a point - there are still a few broken fragments left.


It’s best explained by an example. Let’s imagine you think Steve is a hit man (but you don’t know it for a fact.) In English you can really only make a subjective assertion like this by saying something like: “It seems to me, Steve is a hit man”…I would say Steve is a hit man", etc. But actually you are using the indicative “IS”.

(If you said this, the chances are you’d soon get Steve growling that you had no actual proof, that you couldn’t substantiate the statement…! :-0)

However, in Italian it’s nice and clear:

  1. Steve e’ un killer professionale (plain statement of fact)
  2. Penso che Steve sia un killer professionale (statement of subjective opinion)

Were Steve a hit man, he might object to being outed on LingQ.

Would that he were a hit man! I would have a couple of jobs for him :wink:

May he become a hit man in the future!

Yes, if we’re in the past there are still some fragments. (Even though most folks would now say: “if Steve WAS a hit man…etc…”)

The past subjunctive is different in Italian too:

“Se Steve fossi un killer professionale mi ucciderebbe gratis” - uh, or something like that…

(My Italian isn’t too hot anymore, alas…)

Almost correct, Jay! :slight_smile:

What, you mean he would demand payment to kill ME…!? :wink:

(Seriously, should it be “fosse”…?)

“I wonder if I am missing out by not knowing what ‘subjunctive’ actually means! :-)”

@guitario - You’ve just started learning Spanish, so I think it’s fair to say that you’ll know soon enough!

Yes, Jay, it should be “fosse”. :slight_smile:

Here’s an introductory tutorial: Subjunctive | ENGLISH PAGE

This tutorial was written by a person made of the right stuff!

“It is important that he tries harder” (what everyone actually says nowadays)

“It is important that he try harder” (Jawohl!)

Alas this only applies to the he/she form, and doesn’t seem to suggest any remotely realistic subjunctive for “is” (i.e. where “sia” is used in the above Italian example.)

If you ask me, we may need to go back to Anglo Saxon? :-0

Be that as it may, English is not the only language to have lost out, the German subjunctive is also getting rarer. There is a wonderful combination of imperative and subjunctive: Sagen Sie ihm, er möge sich zur Verfügung halten, er habe sich zur Verfügung zu halten.

Yes, Jamie already pointed out that we still have fragments in set expressions like “be that as it may”.

But would you really ever say: “I think Steve BE a hit man”…!?

Wohl kaum.

I think we are (be??) all dumbing down. And yeah, that goes (go??) for German too!

A few years ago I spent a lot of time studying the subjunctive in German, only to be told by my penfriends that unless I had taken some kind of Goethe pills I should cut it out and write in modern German.