Can "would" indicate the subjunctive?

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RockNote

Member
Danish
Specifically, I am thinking about the word as used in this expression - "Yes, that would be true" - which comes as a response to the question: "True or false? Milk, milk, lemonade, around the corner fudge is made."

The quote is from an installment of Will & Grace ("Nice in White Satin").

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Script: http://www.durfee.net/will/scripts/s0607.htm
 
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  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You can think of it as a subjunctive if you like.
    That is true - fact
    That will/may/must/can be true - probability/possibility/inference/occurrence
    That would/might/must/could be true - TENTATIVE probability/possibility/inference/occurrence
     

    RockNote

    Member
    Danish
    You can think of it as a subjunctive if you like.
    That is true - fact
    That will/may/must/can be true - probability/possibility/inference/occurrence
    That would/might/must/could be true - TENTATIVE probability/possibility/inference/occurrence
    Thanks very much for your reply! The problem, as I see it, with regarding it as the subjunctive is the concord between subject (that) and verb (would be). All the grammars I've dipped into describe the subjunctive as involving a lack of concord. (If I were you / Be that as it may / It is imperative that he develop / etc.)

    I therefore welcome your idea that we talk about it (would be) as an indication of something tentative. "That would be true - if you were to ask me that." Why he (the doctor) does it in this manner, I don't know. Is it idiomatic? The whole scene is crazy, of course, the doctor seemingly some kind of madman turned dangerous quack. The tentative "would be" may perhaps be said to further the nebulous atmosphere, which makes us wonder just what kind of twisted reality he subscribes to.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "That would be true - if you were to ask me that."
    In English we very commonly omit the protasis from a conditional sentence and leave it to the listener or reader to guess at the condition we have in mind: I wouldn't leave you. However, I feel that the use of would (and the other past tense modals) to offer a tentative suggestion is a quite separate phenomenon. "Tentative" (and "subjunctive") are not the same thing as "conditional", and I feel that in RockNote's example in #1 there is no implied condition. The implication is not that what I say is true (or possibly true) subject to a condition, but that I am not very sure whether what I am saying is true. I wonder if you can look at it this way:
    They left at four so they are there now. - fact
    They left at four so they will be there now. - probable but thinking about it objectively we don't have evidence to confirm.
    They left at four so they would be there now. - adds perhaps a sense of subjective doubt.
     
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