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What is the subjunctive case?


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#1 PeriodicElwood

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 09:17 AM

In trying to learn Spanish, I can often compare most of the grammatical concepts with English, and that really helps. Spanish has a special case called "subjunctive," however, and I'm having a hard time understanding when to use it or how it differs from other cases. Does English have a subjunctive case?

#2 Chris M.

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Posted 27 April 2012 - 01:59 PM

English does have a subjunctive case, which is used to express desires, wishes, possibilities, probabilities, and other events or outcomes which may be uncertain or hypothetical. For example, to write about how you would behave in a hypothetical situation, you would write: "If I were President of the United States, I would send a man to Mars."

In this case, "were" is the subjunctive form of "to be." To form the subjunctive of other verbs, you generally use "were" with their infinitive. For example, to talk about owning something in the future, you would say, "If I were to own a house, I would be so happy."

Unlike Spanish, however, English does not make as frequent use of the subjunctive, nor are there distinctive subjunctive forms of most verbs.

#3 dblandon

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 04:43 PM

What Chris M. said is correct, I would however like to expand on the reason we do not identify the subjunctive case. When you are a native speaker of a language, you do not learn it the same way that someone speaking it as a second language would. That would be why you do not learn the verb tenses by name the way you do with Spanish. Instead, you learn the language and how to speak it by ear, and your brain learns to process the information in a different way.

I mention this because I learned Spanish while I was growing up and had the chance to talk to some native speakers. Some of them did not know the subjunctive case by name, and explained to me that they just say what sounds right, much the way I do with English.

#4 buhi

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 08:36 PM

Chris M. does a good job of talking about one of the most obvious subjunctive forms in English, but there are are some others. For example, the following sentence has a present subjunctive:

"I ask that you be at the theater by ten so we can start rehearsals."

See that "be" there? Usually, this word is paired with "to" to make the infinitive "to be," or with a modal verb like "can" or "will." However, when it exists all by its lonesome like this, it is a subjunctive. Typically, it occurs when someone is giving commands of some sort, and can use verbs other than "be":

"Sarah required that Joe show up an hour early to the dinner."
"The best man asked that the other groomsmen be prepared for a long day of wedding photographs."
"The invitation requested that we wear blue ties."

The present subjunctive does not have to happen in the present, as you can see. Also, it is the subjunctive MOOD, not the subjunctive CASE.




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