Lest - usage

MateuszMoś

Senior Member
Hello, why after the "lest" word I have to write should? Is it a grammar operation?


I did not tell them the truth lest I should offend them.

I fear lest he should see her.
 
  • Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    I disagree Thomas. You should write 'should', because it's the subjunctive mood. 'Lest I offend them' is incorrect, although it sounds alright because the subjunctive is slowly drifting into oblivion as noone knows how to use it any more.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Look it up, Copperknickers, before saying it's incorrect. You'll find it is used by many great authors.:) It might be wise to look up what the grammar books say about the subjunctive too. Some of the best of them declare the subjunctive to have been defunct in English, except for one or two specific uses, as far back as 1909. I think we must also distinguish between a true subjunctive - I've known people say that I offend can be a subjunctive, incidentally - and variations in mood effected by modal auxiliaries.

    I wondered if Scottish usage might be different, but here are two examples from Sir Walter Scott:

    'Say to the Grand Master', replied Rebecca, 'that I maintain my innocence, and do not yield me as justly condemned, lest I become guilty of mine own blood.' Ivanhoe.

    'If you like not such marks of my scorn', replied the Earl, 'betake yourself instantly to your weapon, lest I repeat the usage you complain of.' Kenilworth.

    Incidentally Scott does occasionally use the subjunctive (without the modal
    should) after lest, to judge from the times the verb is in the third person singular.

    As the question is about whether we need to use 'should' after lest, which we don't, I do not feel we should go into a discussion about whether the following verb (when we aren't using modal auxiliaries -
    might is possible too, of course) needs to be in the subjunctive, though others may.


     
    Last edited:

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    In "lest I offend," "offend" is in the subjunctive. You just can't see it because for the verb "offend" the subjunctive looks the same as the indicative in the first person.

    But compare to:

    "...lest I be called a coward."
    "...lest he see her too soon."

    I'd be comfortable saying that in clauses introduced by "lest" the subjunctive must be employed, at least in very high-level English. And I prefer the formulation of the subjunctive without modals in this case, because all of the information is already provided by the very meaningful word "lest."
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Hello, why after the "lest" word I have to write should? Is it a grammar operation?

    I did not tell them the truth lest I should offend them.

    I fear lest he should see her.
    You don't have to include "should"; in fact, you shouldn't. The correct sentences, at least in US English, are:
    I did not tell them the truth, lest I offend them.
    I fear lest he see her.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I was always taught (BE) that in such cases "should" is optional. I have been known to teach the same. :D :eek: They say "should" is your insurance policy against confusing the tense of the verb that follows - simply because "should" is followed by a bare infinitive anyway. :)
     

    inib

    Senior Member
    British English
    I was always taught (BE) that in such cases "should" is optional. I have been known to teach the same. :D :eek: They say "should" is your insurance policy against confusing the tense of the verb that follows - simply because "should" is followed by a bare infinitive anyway. :)
    I think that resumes things very nicely, boozer. I've observed on very many threads that the Americans know how to (and actually do) use the English subjunctive much more than the Brits, and I do have a tendency to use "should" in a structure like the one in question, or after "suggest" etc, but that doesn't mean one is more correct than the other. It most certainly doesn't mean that the version with "should" is the only option.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It occurs to me that behind Mateus's question may be the consideration that, when we are using the should modal after lest, it remains should, for all persons, singular and plural: i.e. we don't say lest we would... :cross:; that modal should be should...

    Mateus may have a book telling him always to use should and never would in these circumstances. This may account for the question.

    I think we've made it clear that there are other verb forms that can follow lest, but the book is right to prohibit would + bare infinitive after lest, I think. I can't think of a circumstance where that would be correct.
     
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