should have warned -- subjunctive?

LQZ

Senior Member
Mandarin
Last week, a judge awarded the family $1.95 million, saying the federal Forest Service should have warned them about a dangerous bear. New York Times (subscription, not free)

Dear all,

Could you please tell me whether the bold part is subjunctive? To my mind of thinking, since the fact that the family hadn't been warned, and "should have warned" is contrary to the fact, so it is subjunctive. Looking forward to your help. Thanks.


LQZ
 
  • boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Oh, dear. Subjunctive? Again... :(

    As far as I'm concerned, this is certainly not the English subjunctive mood. This is a modal verb (should) + perfect infinitive. You use the perfect infinitive to express past action because after modal verbs you may not use past-tense verb forms.

    But I wonder, LQZ, were you actually taught this was subjunctive? Or do you simply suppose it might be? And if so - why?
     

    LQZ

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Oh, dear. Subjunctive? Again... :(

    As far as I'm concerned, this is certainly not the English subjunctive mood. This is a modal verb (should) + perfect infinitive. You use the perfect infinitive to express past action because after modal verbs you may not use past-tense verb forms.

    But I wonder, LQZ, were you actually taught this was subjunctive? Or do you simply suppose it might be? And if so - why?
    Dear boozer,

    I was taught in high school that all conditionals were subjunctive, so now I still have big trouble with conditionals and the subjunctive. And I didn't learn anything about the "modal+have+verb" fomular. So it always bugs me a lot. :(

    I am going to do a search for modal+have+verb. Thanks. :)
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I wouldn't say that is a subjunctive. The Forest Service was obligated to warn them but didn't. The fact that the Forest Service failed to meet their obligation does not make the obligation contrary-to-fact or conditional.

    (Should is not always conditional.)
     

    LQZ

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    I wouldn't say that is a subjunctive. The Forest Service was obligated to warn them but didn't. The fact that the Forest Service failed to meet their obligation does not make the obligation contrary-to-fact or conditional.

    (Should is not always conditional.)
    Thanks, Cagey. Your explanation makes it clearer. :)
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I was taught in high school that all conditionals were subjunctive...
    I'm very surprised to hear that. Some, very few, conditionals are subjunctive, in my view, for example:
    If I were you, I would pay more attention to the conditional mood.
    If I had my own planet, I would turn it into a desert.
    These ones are not only counterfactual, but also impossible - I'm obviously not you and I cannot be you, nor can I have my own planet.

    However:
    If John opened that window, he could see the beautiful sunrise.
    I think this one is a straightforward second conditional in which the speaker finds it unlikely for John to open the window. But it certainly is not subjunctive, because John just might open the window.

    And the example you gave in post 1 is not even a conditional sentence, as Cagey points out, let alone one in the subjunctive mood...

    Anyway, I was taught that what we commonly refer to as 1st, 2nd, 3rd (and maybe zero, but I've forgotten) conditionals, is actually the conditional mood - a mood in its own right, a totally different one from the subjunctive mood.

    Perhaps you should re-learn this bit of grammar. (Or perhaps I should :) )
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I wouldn't say that is a subjunctive. The Forest Service was obligated to warn them but didn't. The fact that the Forest Service failed to meet their obligation does not make the obligation contrary-to-fact or conditional.[...]
    It doesn't make the obligation contrary-to-fact - they had a real obligation, according to the judge - but the statement that they should have done it implies here that they didn't do it.

    It might be worth saying:

    1. That there are very few true subjunctive forms left in use in English. We often use modal auxiliaries like should, may, might, etc. where other languages use subjunctives.
    2. Subjunctives and conditionals are not the only ways in which contrary-to-fact ideas are presented in English. Here, for instance, the expression they should have, which means they had an obligation to do something and they didn't fulfil that obligation, contains a contrary-to-fact element (that they didn't fulfil the obligation).

    A problem for learners is that the expression should have done something can also have a different meaning: should has several different possible senses. They should have can mean it's highly probable that they have: so they should have finished by now can mean either a. they had an obligation to finish before now which they haven't met or b. it's highly probable that they've finished before now. We would know which from the context.

    Here the family has been awarded damages and the judge has said that the service should have warned them; clearly we are dealing with meaning a. The judge was not saying it's highly probable that the federal Forest Service will have warned them about a dangerous bear, though in a different context the words, the federal Forest Service should have warned them about a dangerous bear, could have that meaning.

    A French friend of mine regards these modal auxiliaries as one of the hardest things in English for a learner, but he's mastered them very well now, so don't be discouraged LQZ.
     

    LQZ

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Thanks, dear boozer and TT.

    Now I've got it and do appreciate your help.

    I love learning English in this forum. :)
     
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