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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: I agree with Professor Fidelholtz.

I notice that this is from Grammar.net on Twitter. It comes from a normative tradition that wants English to be strict and clear cut. Many people posting there seem to want to find fault with people they see as inferior users of English.

In sentences like this, 'were' is POSSIBLE, but very formal. 'Was' is more usual in all varieties. There are various studies of written English that could give you the exact figures on particula corpora, but it's unlikely any dialect of English usually has the subjunctive here.

Some teachers of English make a real effort to teach people rules to explain things where there are alternatives. That's what this graphic looks like to me: an invented rule to try to make sense of something that is just variable.

Other comparable issues are will/shall; use of 'that' in relative clauses; difference between 'I will finish' and 'I am going to finish', etc. etc..


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

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