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Subject: Subjunctive vs. indicative following 'if'-clauses in English
Question: To whom it may concern:

I came across the following graphic on Facebook (https://fbcdn-
snc6/208097_505755036104309_1918646052_n.jpg) and became
curious about whether or not there are any systematic studies that
document whether English speakers consistently maintain the
distinction between the subjunctive and the indicative in clauses
starting with 'if'. Is this graphic simply illustrating a prescriptive rule,
and if not, is this perhaps dialect-specific? Any leads on scholars who
have worked on this question would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you,
Calvin Cheng

Reply: Hi, Calvin,

For the vast majority of American English speakers (and, I
believe, across nearly all dialects) the use of the 'subjunctive'
is pretty rare. I personally have never run across this 'rule'
before, but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the author of this
graphic studied Latin or some other language that does make
systematic use of a subjunctive, and made the rule up for English.
I happen to be one of a dying breed who naturally use the
subjunctive, since my parents used it, and even I only sometimes
use it. However, in the example with 'was' I would be absolutely
comfortable using 'were', at least as much as in the first
example. Still, the use is unusual enough that I now would be
unlikely to notice someone not using the subjunctive where the
prescriptive rule would require it. And btw, that rule basically
requires 'were' in an 'if' clause across the board, if I remember


James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO

Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 08-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Subjunctive vs. indicative following 'if'-clauses in English    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (13-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Subjunctive vs. indicative following 'if'-clauses in English    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (15-Oct-2012)

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