A bit of confusion about the subjunctive case

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by DurakSuka, Dec 30, 2014.

  1. DurakSuka New Member

    So I'm a beginner in Russian, and I am a bit confused about the usage of the subjunctive case in Russian using 'бы'. Could you give some examples of how it's used in Russian? And why can it only be used with verbs in the past tense? Lastly, why is it always "если бы" whereas for other cases, it's recommended that the "бы" be clubbed with the verb?
  2. Maroseika Moderator

    It is not that subjunctive mood can be used only with the verbs in the past tense, in fact, subjunctive mood has no temporal form at all, because it means something presumable or possible, i.e. irreal. But subjunctive mood is formed by use of the form of the verb, morphologically coinciding with the past form, and particle бы.
    Your question about если бы is not very clear. Subjunctive mood may be used with or without если, but бы (-б) is obligatorily, forming with the verb this mood:

    Я бы поел, да нечего.
    Что бы ты сделал с миллионом долларом?
  3. rur1920 Senior Member

    The placement of бы is rather free in Russian, ours is not a Romance language, so in it, the subjunctive/conditional mood (not case) is rather syntactic (made by working on the clause) than morphological (made by working on the word). Freedom means responsibility, of course, so there is no way to enumerate shortly all possible obstacles. By the way, a common "mistake" (whether it really is a mistake depends on on the situation) is to put two бы in the same clause, when two options of placing бы come into conflict. Most often, they are the special position for бы after что (чтобы), если (если бы) and the like, and the special position for "бы" right after the verb. Если most usually draws all бы like a magnet, but otherwise, there are no rules. Never mind the "tense", it is mostly formal; in reality, it may refer even to the future, though probably seldom and not definitively (я бы выпил чайку, I would like to drink some tea).
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2014
  4. DurakSuka New Member

    Yes, I'm sorry. It's just the confusion muddling things up for me! Let me try and clarify my question - I'm following the Michel Thomas Russian course, and the teacher there gave an example:

    "еслн бы Я знал, Я вам сказал бы"

    However, in another part of the course, she had mentioned that "бы" should always be used before or after the word, and she seemed to imply that "если бы" was sort of a canned construction. In this case though, I can see the "бы" separated from the verb by "знал". Is this correct? So there's no mandatory requirement for the verb to always be linked together in a sentence with the "бы"?

    About the morphological form of the particle, yes, that was exactly my question. So it's only a convention that the verb should be in the past form, right?

    On a side note, I was pleased as punch that I could (probably!) understand the last sentence just with my extremely basic Russian (I just started studying it a couple of days back)! It means "What would you do with a million dollars?", right?

    And thanks for the response! :)
  5. DurakSuka New Member

    Ah yes! That certainly clears up the confusion a lot. I think the problem is that the teacher in the audio course that I'm following didn't spell it out as clearly as I would have liked, and I had to presume certain things. Thanks a lot, mate!

    About the name, haha. Yeah, self-flagellation is the ironical antithesis of self-aggrandizement! ;)
  6. Maroseika Moderator

    Если бы is really enountered often in the subjunctive phrases and even separately as a symbol of it:
    Если бы да кабы да во рту росли грибы (if ifs and ans were pots and pans).

    However бы without a verb or verb without бы cannot mean subjunction. Unlike without если:
    Если бы я знал, то сказал бы. = Знал бы, сказал бы.

    By the way, pronoun я is not capitalized in Russian.

    No, it's not a convention, but history. In the Ancient Russian language (which much richer verbal system than in Russian) verbal form on -л (сказал, сделал) were participles, and бы was a kind of an auxillary verb. I.e. сделал бы = был сделавший = was in condition of having done. That is why it has now conjectural sense: we imagine such a condition when the action is already performed.

  7. rur1920 Senior Member

    Also: если бы я знал, то я бы вам сказал об этом. Just to demonstrate a different option of placement of бы.
  8. DurakSuka New Member


    Thanks! I was indeed wondering whether to capitalise it or not.

    Very interesting information! That explains a lot indeed. When I first encountered verb conjugations, I was wondering how various nuances could be communicated as in English. The problem for me is that I am still kind of translating things in my head, and looking for equivalents in Russian. Of course the idiomatic way of expressing such nuances would be different in Russian. This puts a bit of context on the whole thing. Thanks!
  9. rur1920 Senior Member

    Here's what Google found for me, a paper about history of сослагательное наклонение written in Russian. In the section for established facts, the author states that in Ancient Slavic texts бы stood either for a very special form of the verb "to be", or for the aorist form; texts were different in this respect. Aorist for Ancient Slavic is, as far as I understand, about the same as Simple Past for English, the meaning is close. Why the same tense was used for all unreal times, is a question; maybe the concept of time does not make so much sense for unreal events. So it seems the asker is right, it is "a convention", i. e. something tricky to explain.
  10. marco_2 Senior Member

    Maybe it isn't important information for the beginners but it seems to me that you sometimes use a construction with imperative forms of the verbs meaning subjunctive case, e.g.

    я год назад, сколько людей будет убито, вышла бы я на Майдан?
    "Будь он унтер рядовой, у него лишь хлеб с водой"

    Am I right?
  11. rur1920 Senior Member

    With the conditional meaning. "Case" is not a correct word, "mood" is.
  12. marco_2 Senior Member

    Of course, I thoughtlessly aped DurakSuka so (s)he is to blame. :p
  13. Maroseika Moderator

    I still don't like the word convention, because it presumes some kind of deliberate agreement between people. Even if we mean agreement between educated people, this hardly ever could take place. This would just contradict the spontaneous nature of language.
    As for your link, they refer to aorist only in point of what later changed to particle бы. About the verb this article clearly states it was so called л-participle. Therefore I think there is no question about "the same tense".

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