Subjunctive: Useful background information on subjunctive.

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VenusEnvy

Senior Member
English, United States
I was thinking about the use of subjunctive in Spanish, and its translation into English.

For example,
Spanish: Quiero que sea más generoso.
English Literal translation: I want that you be more generous.
English Paraphrase: I want you to be more generous.

Spanish: Prefiero que sea más generoso.
English: I prefer that you be more generous.

This difference (or discrepency) is making me a little batty (there's another expression for crazy, Artrella!). What would native English-speakers have to say about this? How would YOU command using "prefer"? Should I be saying, "I prefer you to be more generous?"

What say you? :confused: :)

(I hope this is clear.)

P.S. I wasn't quite sure where to post this question.
 
  • Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Hi, Venus!

    First of all, I wouldn't command anyone to do or say anything. But I would suggest that the more idiomatic, and consequentially, more normal expression in English would be I want/prefer you to be.... Literal translations from a foreign language into English seldom work.

    From a grammatical point of view, the subjunctive mood does not exist in English since there is no change in the root (or radical) form of the verb. Substituting the base form (infinitive) of the verb for the inflected form does not constitute a subjunctive, as is the case with European languages.

    Ed
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Eddie said:
    From a grammatical point of view, the subjunctive mood does not exist in English since there is no change in the root (or radical) form of the verb.
    I disagree.

    verb to talk

    present indicative:

    I talk
    you talk
    he/she/it talks
    we talk
    you talk
    they talk

    present subjunctive:

    (that) I talk
    (that) you talk
    (that) he/she/it talk
    (that) we talk
    (that) you talk
    (that) they talk

    Even in regular verbs, there is a small difference between the subjunctive and the indicative.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    VenusEnvy said:
    I was thinking about the use of subjunctive in Spanish, and its translation into English.

    For example,
    Spanish: Quiero que sea más generoso.
    English Literal translation: I want that you be more generous. (1)
    English Paraphrase: I want you to be more generous. (2)
    If I'm not mistaken, both (1) and (2) exist in English, except that (1) is a bit more old-fashioned/literary.

    VenusEnvy said:
    Spanish: Prefiero que sea más generoso.
    English: I prefer that you be more generous.
    Or "I prefer you to be more generous"...
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Eddie said:
    First of all, I wouldn't command anyone to do or say anything.
    Perhaps "command" was a harsh choice of words. I wanted to convey the idea of a wish/desire/command/request. Learning different languages, the imperative (or, in this case perhaps subjunctive) is sometimes referred to as the "command form of the verb".
    Perhaps I should have used any of these other words:
    Beckon, compel, direct, impose, instruct, oblige, ordain, order, request, summon, tell, etc.


    Eddie said:
    But I would suggest that the more idiomatic, and consequentially, more normal expression in English would be I want/prefer you to be....
    This exactly was my question.
    How would you impose a request using the words "want" and "prefer". I tend to use two different ways.
    "I want you to be generous."
    "I prefer that you be generous."


    Eddie said:
    Literal translations from a foreign language into English seldom work. From a grammatical point of view, the subjunctive mood does not exist in English since there is no change in the root (or radical) form of the verb.
    I realize this fully. But, these arguments make me want to find exceptions. It's a fault of mine. Always looking for an argument. :rolleyes:
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    VenusEnvy said:
    I was thinking about the use of subjunctive in Spanish, and its translation into English.

    For example,
    Spanish: Quiero que sea más generoso.
    English Literal translation: I want that you be more generous.
    English Paraphrase: I want you to be more generous.

    Spanish: Prefiero que sea más generoso.
    English: I prefer that you be more generous.

    This difference (or discrepency) is making me a little batty (there's another expression for crazy, Artrella!). What would native English-speakers have to say about this? How would YOU command using "prefer"? Should I be saying, "I prefer you to be more generous?"

    What say you? :confused: :)

    (I hope this is clear.)

    P.S. I wasn't quite sure where to post this question.


    Hi Venus (and thx for the word :thumbsup: )

    I think it is possible for you to say "I should prefer you to be more generous"
    "I would prefer that you be more generous"(formal) "Would you prefer me to be more generous?"

    Anyway the subjunctive in English is not very much used and it is considered formal.

    Waiting for the natives' explanations...
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Outsider said:
    If I'm not mistaken, both (1) and (2) exist in English, except that (1) is a bit more old-fashioned/literary.
    This is where my curiosty was spurred. Are they both valid?


    However, my CONFUSION was spurred by the fact that I only use construction #1 with the word "prefer".
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    VenusEnvy said:
    This is where my curiosty was spurred. Are they both valid?


    However, my CONFUSION was spurred by the fact that I only use construction #1 with the word "prefer".


    I couldn't find that verb pattern in my Grammar books, it does not sound odd to me, because "you want something" >>> something = "that you be more generous."
    But I cannot say it is correct, though.
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    Artrella said:
    Waiting for the natives' explanations...
    Good morning;
    As one of the natives' :D
    First of all, you can say all of them...
    "I prefer that you be more generous" --more Formal..Maybe to be used more in formal letters..
    "I prefer you to be more generous"--little less Formal..
    "I would prefer that you be more generous"--More serious..stressing the point more...
    "I want you to be more generous"--less formal..
    These are all something that "you want"--could you (please)..would you (please)..
    So again..it depends on how and where you would be using them..
    hope I didn't confuse..:confused:
    te gato;)
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    Outsider said:
    But what about "I want that you be more generous"?
    Hi Outsider;
    It would be the same as I prefer that...
    Main Entry: want1
    Part of Speech: verb
    Definition: desire
    Synonyms: ache, aspire, be greedy, choose, covet, crave, cream for, desiderate, die over, fancy, hanker, have ambition, hunger, incline toward, itch for, lech for, long, lust, need, pine, prefer, require, spoil for, thirst, wish, yearn, yen for


    te gato;)
     

    Artrella

    Banned
    BA
    Spanish-Argentina
    Yes tg! But why did I never come across such pattern? "I want that you be more friendly". Do natives use this construction some time? If so, when, under what circumstances?

    Thx
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I cannot give you a reason from a grammar rule book, but I would never use this construction, nor have I ever heard it used by a native speaker.

    It sounds artificial and stilted. One might say, " I want that you should be more generous." This also sounds quite unnatural, but is less jarring than your example.

    regards,
    Cuchuflete

    Outsider said:
    But what about "I want that you be more generous"?
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    huar! eddie.. clicky

    the subjunctive IS a mood in english, and is still used, just not always in the same cases as in most other languages, i'll give you *the* classic example of the subjuntive in english:

    if i WERE you... and NOT if i was you (imperfect ind.)

    if you want more infos i suggest a quick stop off at google :) [this page gives a ton of examples]

    another quickie.. my brother learnt this stuff as a royal naval officer (lol) in his writting class:

    i recommend that he be promoted to..
     

    Bambino

    Member
    USA/English
    Outsider said:
    But what about "I want that you be more generous"?
    Hey Outsider and all others, how goes it?
    No, that doesn’t sound right. I have never heard or seen it written that way. This sounds better: “I want you to be more generous”. :tick:
    If you want to use “that you be” instead of “you to be”, then you would have to change the “be” to “are” or “will be”. Even then, in this instance, it would still sound incorrect:
    “I want that you are more generous”. :cross:
    “I want that you will be more generous”. :cross:
    Change the want to hope and it sounds better:
    “I hope that you are more generous”. :tick:
    “I hope that you will be more generous”. :tick:
    But still, "I hope that you be more generous":cross: sounds odd.

    This is just from experience living in many parts of the US. I have no rules of grammar to back it up with. ;)

    Ciao, Bambino
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    I hope that I haven't been saying it wrong all along. :( This would sadden the perfectionist in me deeply . . .

    While I whole-heartedly embrace all of your opinions, is there a grammarian here (or an average person with a credible grammar book) who can close this case?
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    Artrella said:
    Yes tg! But why did I never come across such pattern? "I want that you be more friendly". Do natives use this construction some time? If so, when, under what circumstances?

    Thx
    Art;
    It is because we don't say it..Like Cuchu said..you have to add another word to it...it is not wrong to say it..if we were back in Shakespearian days:D

    I guess (in my opinion) the only way I can describe the art of speaking "English" (and staying within the confines of the "Rules")would be..
    "LESS IS MORE"...If you can get the point across by using fewer words..

    I want that you be more friendly...Could you be more friendly
    I want that you do your homework...please do your homework

    I hope I have not confused the issue more....
    te gato;)
     

    Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    You just made my point, Outsider. The base form (also called the infinitive form) is talk. There is no change in the spelling of the root form that you find in French, Spanish, Italian, etc.

    Ed
     

    Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Venus, my love. The use of the pronoun that in that type of sentence is restricted to a few verbs: insist, prefer, et al.

    Example: Would you like me to go or to stay? - I'd prefer that you stay.

    I want that you be more generous, while understandable, is compeltely ridiculous.
    None but the most uneducated person would speak like that.

    Apart from a few sentences like that, anglophones prefer to use the infinitive or omit the pronoun:

    I want you to go.
    She's begging you to leave her alone.
    They'd rather we stay.

    Got it?
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    Eddie said:
    You just made my point, Outsider. The base form (also called the infinitive form) is talk. There is no change in the spelling of the root form that you find in French, Spanish, Italian, etc.

    Ed
    \o/ o\ o/ *waves frantically*

    did you read my post? the subjunctive is a mood.... and while it usues forms that are present in the indicative as well that doesn't stop it from being the subjunctive. take regular er verbs in french.. e.g. pour qu'il parle (subj.) il parle (ind.)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Eddie said:
    From a grammatical point of view, the subjunctive mood does not exist in English since there is no change in the root (or radical) form of the verb. Substituting the base form (infinitive) of the verb for the inflected form does not constitute a subjunctive, as is the case with European languages.
    What about the past subjunctive tense?

    verb "to be"

    simple past, indicative:

    I was
    you were
    he/she/it was
    we were
    you were
    they were

    simple past, subjunctive:

    (if) I were
    (if) you were
    (if) he/she/it were
    (if) we were
    (if) you were
    (if) they were

    "Were" is definitely not the infinitive, "be".

    You do have a point, though, about the present subjunctive, which was the relevant tense for the initial question in this thread. I can see how its existence can be questioned.
     

    Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Outsider, using were in that type of syntactic structure is merely substituting the preterite form of be. There is still no change of root as in the case of French: Il faut que tu obéisses à tes parents.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Eddie said:
    Outsider, using were in that type of syntactic structure is merely substituting the preterite form of be.

    The preterite form for a different person.

    Would you also say that English has no imperative mood, then?
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    Eddie said:
    Benjy, attaching a label to something doesn't make it so. A can of beans with a peas label doesn't change the contents..
    rolfling lollerskates lol. i guess you didn't read the web pages i linked then. but i have a question. and what you just said implies a lot of really funny things like "who has the right to name anything anything being as their giving a label to it doesn't actually mean that it it's that"

    who said peas were peas in the first place? i think they were called carrots! down with dictionaries/grammar!

    ps.. this whole thing originally started because you said that the subjuctive didnt exist in english.. it does =[

    examples....
    She wishes she were not here.
    The modern usage She wishes she was is incorrect.

    He wishes he had a hammer.
    Without the subjuctive, this would be constructed in the indicative as He wishes he has a hammer, but the indicative is incorrect.

    I wish I knew.
    This formulation is distinctly different the following indicative statement: I wish I know (which makes no sense). The indicative is inappropriate here.
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Eddie said:
    The use of the pronoun that in that type of sentence is restricted to a few verbs: insist, prefer, et al.
    This was my original question. If you'll remember, I used that when "prefering", but not when "wanting". So, I suppose you and I are in accordance (on this one issue). Can you give me more verbs (besides prefer and insist) that would be able to properly utilize that in this way?

    EDIT: I found another: request
    "He requested that I go with him."


    It's not my intention to take away what credit you think your word has, but can cite a source from which you obtained this information? Perhaps a book, or website?
     

    Eddie

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Venus, I envy you. (Just playing!)

    What you're asking about is permitted in some cases, but not in others. I know that's not of much help, but the preceding very informative threads should give you an idea of its use or non-use, whatever grammatical label you want to attach to it.

    Listen to how educated (that sounds so snobbish) English-speaking people converse with each other, and do a lot of reading. You'll get the hang of it.
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Eddie said:
    Venus, I envy you. (Just playing!)

    What you're asking about is permitted in some cases, but not in others. I know that's not of much help, but the preceding very informative threads should give you an idea of its use or non-use, whatever grammatical label you want to attach to it.

    Listen to how educated (that sounds so snobbish) English-speaking people converse with one another, and do a lot of reading. You'll get the hang of it.
    Hope you don't mind a correction, Eddie. It's only MHO
    And, yes, you may envy me. :p
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    Outsider said:
    But what about "I want that you be more generous"?
    It's wrong, but I can't tell you why.

    "I would prefer that you…" is correct.
    "I want that you…" is not possible.

    I think you have raised a really tough question, which seems to be partially answered.

    Now, how does this sound:

    "Would that you were here…" I don't think I have it quite right, but I THINK a construction much like that was used in the time of Shakespeare. Can any one come up with an example using that construction, from an actual source? It would be old—or in a fantasy book!

    Gaer
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    VenusEnvy said:
    Hope you don't mind a correction, Eddie. It's only MHO
    And, yes, you may envy me. :p
    I disagree with your correction. Let me explain why. I found this in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. I'm summing up, because the article is long:

    This is about the prescriptive rule that each other is to be restricted to two and one another is to be restricted to more than two:

    "…evidence in the OED shows that the restriction has never existed in practice; the interchangeablity of each other and one another had been established centuries before Ussher or somebody even earlier thought up the rule."

    In other words, a grammarian (George N. Ussher) made up the rule in 1785. People assumed his rule was based on more than his own opinion, and it wasn't. :)

    Gaer
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Thanks, Gaer, for that interesting tid-bit. :thumbsup: From what I've read, there is quite some debate over its usage.

    I will retract the correction. But, I can't bring myself to change this habit in my life outside of WR. Call it conditioning if you will. I just tried to say it aloud here, in front of my comp, and I swear I heard the echoing of my elementary school grammar teacher in my head! :D
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    "I prefer you to be more generous." sounds odd to me.

    "I prefer that you be more generous." is acceptable.
    "I would prefer it if you were more generous." is better, though.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    VenusEnvy said:
    Thanks, Gaer, for that interesting tid-bit. :thumbsup: From what I've read, there is quite some debate over its usage.

    I will retract the correction. But, I can't bring myself to change this habit in my life outside of WR. Call it conditioning if you will. I just tried to say it aloud here, in front of my comp, and I swear I heard the echoing of my elementary school grammar teacher in my head! :D
    Ah, but where do these teachers GET these rules from???

    Now, someone will probably wonk me for using more than one explanation point. :)

    The same thing, by the way, is true of the "rule" concerning "fewer" and "less". There too a grammarian expressed a preference, nothing more, then other grammarians turned his preference into a rule, which is why you will find fine authors ignoring it to this very day. :)

    It seems that authors have been at war with grammarians for many centuries, and I believe the authors are winning.


    Gaer
     

    Benjy

    Senior Member
    English - English
    gaer said:
    It's wrong, but I can't tell you why.

    "I would prefer that you…" is correct.
    "I want that you…" is not possible.

    I think you have raised a really tough question, which seems to be partially answered.

    Now, how does this sound:

    "Would that you were here…" I don't think I have it quite right, but I THINK a construction much like that was used in the time of Shakespeare. Can any one come up with an example using that construction, from an actual source? It would be old—or in a fantasy book!

    Gaer
    just for you gaer: clicky
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    VenusEnvy said:
    I was thinking about the use of subjunctive in Spanish, and its translation into English.

    For example,
    Spanish: Quiero que sea más generoso.
    English Literal translation: I want that you be more generous.
    English Paraphrase: I want you to be more generous.

    Spanish: Prefiero que sea más generoso.
    English: I prefer that you be more generous.

    This difference (or discrepency) is making me a little batty (there's another expression for crazy, Artrella!). What would native English-speakers have to say about this? How would YOU command using "prefer"? Should I be saying, "I prefer you to be more generous?"

    What say you? :confused: :)

    (I hope this is clear.)

    P.S. I wasn't quite sure where to post this question.
    Wouldn't you just say (using the subjunctive), "I wish you were more generous" ??
     

    leenico

    Senior Member
    U.S.A. english
    From Warriner's english grammar & composition.

    "The only common uses of the subjunctive mood in modern English are to express a condition contrary to fact and to express a wish. These usages occur principally in written English and usually apply to only one verb form-were."
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    leenico said:
    From Warriner's english grammar & composition.

    "The only common uses of the subjunctive mood in modern English are to express a condition contrary to fact and to express a wish. These usages occur principally in written English and usually apply to only one verb form-were."
    As far as I'm concerned, both the links Benjy has provided (in two different messages) show clearly that Warriner's english grammar & composition is inaccurate on this point. :)

    From one site Benji suggested:

    The subjunctive mood is used in a number of fossil phrases that are perhaps no longer felt as inflecting the verb in a particular way:

    as it were. . .
    (God) bless you!
    come what may. . .
    (God) damn it!
    Far be it from me. . .
    God save our gracious Queen; long live our noble Queen. . .
    so be it
    suffice it to say. . .

    Gaer
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    I don't think all of those phrases are on their last breaths. Thousands of postcards are still sent ever day that say, "Wish you were here," and "Let it Be" is fairly modern.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    lsp said:
    I don't think all of those phrases are on their last breaths. Thousands of postcards are still sent ever day that say, "Wish you were here," and "Let it Be" is fairly modern.
    That was my point, and I believe it was the point of others.

    "Be that as it may", I DO understand what other people mean when they say sunjunctive is much less used and needed in English than in other languages! :)

    Gaer
     

    VenusEnvy

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    I am sorry to bring up old news, but my original post did ask a question.
    Why is it ok to say, "I prefer that you be generous", but not "I want that you be generous"? It was mentioned by Eddie that some verbs of request (prefer, insist, request) fit this format, while others simply don't.

    I prefer that you be . . .
    I insist that you be . . .
    I request that you be . . .
    I demand that you be . . .

    I want that you to be . . .
    I would like that you to be . . .

    Others have mentioned that they don't use original structure (no matter what verb), and think it sounds awkward. Many of the comments made were those of opinion, backed only by experience of having spoken English.

    I apologize for perhaps "beating a sick horse to death", but this question still lingers . . .
     
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