Should is optional or be in the sentence

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Author Topic: Alternative constructions for subjunctive sentences  (Read 8075 times)


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Alternative constructions for subjunctive sentences
« on: January 09, 2012, 09:36:42 PM »
I got a G-telp today, and I found some confusing questions.

1. S recommended that we----------- ~  
(a) should meet (b) must meet (c) meet  
<- I know that the sentence including request, order, ask, command... can omit should, but if there are two options, which one should I pick??
« Last Edit: September 27, 2014, 01:00:59 PM by Joe Carillo »

Joe Carillo

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Re: Alternative constructions for subjunctive sentences
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2012, 12:52:56 AM »
Sorry for this much delayed reply. Your question got buried in the flurry of postings in the Forum at that time, so it’s only now that I’m able to answer it.

That sentence in the G-TELP multiple-choice test that baffled you is one of the forms that sentences in the subjunctive mood can take. 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 you 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.”
« Last Edit: February 25, 2012, 12:59:37 AM by Joe Carillo »