Subjunctively yours

I was out for a drink with an English teacher tonight, and we discovered a mutual love of the subjunctive. The other women around the table looked at us utterly blankly. 

While the subjunctive is big in Latin and French (and maybe other languages too, that’s the edge of my knowledge), in English it’s somehow seen as optional, even affected. Or maybe it’s just that people don’t feel confident using it.  But it’s a glorious thing. It’s the closest thing grammar can offer to a magic wand. It can conjure up worlds that don’t exist, that might be brought into being. ‘If I were rich…’ ‘I suggested that he think carefully…’

Don’t just take my word for it: Phuc Tran has a fascinating TED talk in which he explains how in languages without a subjunctive mood, the ability to think in terms of what might have been is compromised, simply because they don’t have the language for it, and if we can’t articulate ideas then it’s hard to have those ideas in the first place.

Take a listen: