More about grammar

The subjunctive (with the optative in Greek) is everywhere in Latin and Greek. A complex sentence is likely to contain it. But how should it be dealt with so as not to encroach on time that should be spent on more important and more difficult things, especially participles, indirect statements and gerunds?

The caveat about the CLC—that it deals with syntax in too piecemeal a way—may apply to the Victorian grammarians also. Perhaps in those golden days, when the Sciences and English were not really taught at public schools, there was time and cloisterly leisure to examine these things. So is it really necessary to deal with Clauses of Purpose, Indirect Command, Fear and Result as separate events?

That same colleague mentioned in the last post thought not. He believed that syntax could be presented more mechanically than semantically, and so he put those four matters of syntax together under the heading ‘Uses of ut and ne’.

The subjunctive, he thought, was intuitive if pupils were aware of it in English, and so quite early on he gave them the feel of it by revelling in its English usages:

  • Fearing lest he be ambushed…
  • Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
  • He commanded that I should conscript…
  • I should be grateful if you would consider…
  • Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
  • Thine be the glory…
  • Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak.
  • God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen;
  • I’m seventeen come Sunday.
  • If I should die, think only this of me…
  • It is my lady ; O, it is my love :
    O, that she knew she were!

Fowler, in his first edition of Modern English Usage, seemed to foresee the disappearance of the subjunctive. Burchfield’s modern edition of Fowler suggests that its use is increasing. Americans remain fond of it.

Next post: Low expectation: an interlude.

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