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Author Topic: Options for avoiding officious subjunctive sentences  (Read 42 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: February 08, 2018, 07:39:56 PM »

Options for avoiding officious subjunctive sentences
(Fifth of a 6-part series on the subjunctive form)

This is the fifth of a six-part series on the subjunctive form, decidedly the most deviant and most intimidating of the three moods of the English language.  Started last January 29, 2018, it will run every other day (except Sunday) until February 9.

I’d like to take up a very interesting question about subjunctive usage that was posted in the Forum some time ago by a South Korean student who goes by the username Leelee. She said she had just taken the G-TELP*, an English-language proficiency test used by some South Korean schools and companies, and was confused by this multiple-choice grammar question:

1. “S recommended that we __________.” Answer choices: (a) should meet; (b) must meet; (c) meet.

She said that she knows that in such sentences that use “recommended” and similar verbs (“requested,” “ordered,” “asked,” and “commanded”), the auxiliary verb “should” is correct but optional. But then, she asked, which of the remaining two options should she pick—“must meet” or “meet”?

Here’s what I think about Leelee’s question:

That sentence in the multiple-choice test that baffled Leelee is one of the forms that sentences in the subjunctive mood can take. We will recall that the subjunctive mood denotes acts or states that are conditional or contingent on possible outcomes of the speaker’s wish, desire, or doubt, as in “I’ll forgive her if she apologizes.” This is as opposed to denoting acts and states in real-world situations, which is what the indicative mood does (“She just took the risk.”), or to expressing direct commands, which is what the imperative mood does (“Take your time!”).


Now, the form of the sentence in that G-TELP test is what’s called the parliamentary motion or jussive form of the subjunctive. It can denote an indirect demand, strong suggestion, or pointed request, as in “We ask that the Impeachment Court act on this matter without delay.” Take note that here, the main clause states the speaker’s desire (“we ask”) and the subordinate “that”-clause describes the nature of the desired action (“that the Impeachment Court act on this matter without delay”). Also, we must firmly keep in mind that in this form of the subjective sentence, the operative verb in the “that”-clause oddly takes the third-person singular form minus the “-s” or “-es” at the tail end, or what’s known as the base form of the verb (in this particular case, “ask” is used instead of “asks”).

Based on these considerations, it becomes clear that the sentence contemplated by that G-TELP question is a sentence in the subjunctive mood. The correct answer choice is therefore “(a) meet,” so the correct form of that sentence should be this: “S recommended that we meet.” The answer couldn’t be “(b) must meet,” for using the verbal auxiliary “must” in the sentence “S recommended that we must meet” will make it semantically defective. Indeed, the verbal auxiliary “must” is redundant in that sentence because both its sense and purpose are already subsumed by the subjunctive character of the construction itself.      

Having said that, I must say that subjunctive sentences of the form presented by Leelee can sometimes sound very formal and officious. Indeed, the use the subjunctive “that”-clause in that manner can justifiably be used only by individuals who can invoke a vested power to compel other people beholden to them to follow what they say, such as statesmen, legislators, bureaucrats, jurists, lawyers, ideologues, and clerics.



So for laypeople like me, I would recommend a grammatically simpler and less formal-sounding alternative: use the auxiliary verb “should” together with the operative verb in the “that”-clause, as in “S recommended that we should meet.” This, in fact, was what Leelee cited as a grammatically correct alternative to the subjunctive construction, except that “should” is really optional grammatically and can thus be dropped altogether.

So perhaps using plain and unpretentious English would be an even simpler and more forthright alternative: “S says we should meet.” (2012)

This essay, 780th of the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the February 25, 2012 issue of The Manila Times, © 2012 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

*G-TELP is the acronym for General Tests of English Language Proficiency. This test was developed by the International Testing Services Center (ITSC) in the United States and, unlike TOEIC or TOEFL, it has five different test levels ranging from beginner to advanced, with Level 5 (the entry level) the lowest and Level 1 (the professional level), the highest. G-TELP is primarily used for school or job placement tests, achievement tests, diagnostic tests, or enhancement of instruction for English language education at colleges or universities.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2018, 07:51:59 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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