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Hello

This is a garbage-like posting written by a poor English learner who has been and still now is agonized by subjunctive things which supposedly underlie English collocations.

My way of understanding English grammar

The English language uses two moods (indicative/subjunctive) and two tenses (present/past). Accordingly, all English verbs including modals and auxiliary verbs have four inflective forms beside finite forms (-ed, -ing). The four are;
(1) indicative: present / past
(2) subjunctive: present / past
For example, 'can', 'have', 'be', and 'smoke' inflect the ways like:

(1) indicative: can / could
(2) subjunctive: can / could

(1) indicative: have, has / had
(2) subjunctive: have / had

(1) indicative: am, are, is / was, were
(2) subjunctive: be / were

(1) indicative: smoke, smokes / smoked
(2) subjunctive: smoke / smoked


We have to understand that tense and time are things a little different. The time is a concept to section the time flow in universe. There are three times: past, present, and future. This concept of time, especially that of 'future' is the one that can be owned only by the modern world where many people feel rather sure they can live next year. Contrary to this, the tense is a concept owned by the people who lived in the remote past and created languages. In such remote past, I think, people must have been unable to be sure they could live in 'future', even tomorrow, because their living environment was so harsh. So 'future' wouldn't matter a lot to them. It is why many languages including English basically lack verbal forms for future. Anyway 'future tense' is not a real tense built in the English language. The future tense is something like an extension of the present tense and therefore it should be expressed only with help of the modal verb 'will'. So, we could say, basically, English has only two tenses, present and past.


Mood is a convenience contrived by the old people to differentiate their speech into fact-statements and thought-statements. The indicative mood is the one for fact-statements and the subjunctive for thought-statements. In our modern world people can know many things proved to be facts owing to education and science, and therefore, our speech is more abundant with indicative sentences to compare with subjunctive sentences. But in the old days, people could not confirm many things they know to be fact. And so, I suppose, they would speak a lot in collocations like "Methink + subjunctive mood". It seems nowadays native speakers are getting uncosciousness that they are using the subjunctive mood in their collocations. But still, I feel, it would be better for us (ESL) to know the subjunctive mood underlies many of current English collocations, especially those using modals.


Now this posting is coming to what I really would like to say. I was taught and even now many Japanese students are being taught that the protases in English imaginary conditionals are expressed by 'past tense' (for imaginary present) and 'past perfect tense' (for imaginary past). And teachers told us that, exceptionally in the case the verb is 'be', we should use a special word, 'were'. But I think this way of understanding would get the thing more complicated. I think we (at least me) had better understand that the finite verbs in the thought-statements in English are all in subjunctive forms.
(EX) If I had been a diligent student, I would be able to speak English better. ['had' and 'would' are subjunctives]
(EX) I wish I were a bird. I wish I could fly like a bird. ['could' is subjunctive]
(EX) (I wish) I could kill him. ['could' is subjunctive] I could swim when I was young. ['could' is indicative]

paco
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Comments  
Paco,

Whatever works for you, use it! My division is a little different from yours, probably because of my experience with Romance languages, the 'daughters' of Latin.

Instead of fact-statements and thought-statements I think of "that which is actual" and "that which is envisioned", but the idea is the same. To that I add "that which is anticipated" (the futures - see below).

I think of the future with "will" as a modality more than a tense -- but I think of it as the "future of the present": I say I will go.
This means that "would" forms a modality I call the "future of the past": I said I would go.

It turns out that in Romance languages the two "futures" are quite related morphologically, and neither is subjunctive, so I never think of the "would" 'tense' as subjunctive but either as "conditional" -- its name in the Romance languages -- or as "hypothetical", or as "the future of the past", even though it is not restricted to either of these uses exclusively.

As for modals other than "will" and "would", I think that, as defective verbs, each often serves for multiple tenses/moods. "could", for example, may be thought of as present, past, past subjunctive, or conditional, depending on context, as you showed in your post.

Jim
Hello Jim

Thank you for your kind comments. To me every modal is difficult to grasp its exact meanings.

As for 'will'/'would', I think they are also used as 'indicative' and 'subjunctive'.

(1) neutral future (be about to: be destined to) [indicative:will/would]
She will come tomorrow.
She said she would come tomorrow.
(2) habitual action (be accustomed to) [indicative:will (rare)/would]
(?) We will often go swimming in summer.
We would often go swimming in summer.
(3) volitional future (be glad to/wish to) [will+would]
[pres subj : rude / past subj : polite]
Won't you come with us? Wouldn't you come with us?
I will go with you. I would (like to) go with you.
They won't stop smoking. They wouldn't stop smoking.
(4) likelihood (be likely to) [subjunctive:will+would]
[pres subj : strong / past subj : soft]
My guess will be wrong. My guess would be wrong.
A difference between present subj of modals from those of normal verbs is that the tense changes in accord with the main clause's tense in a report sentence.
He said "My guess will be wrong" -> He said his guess would be wong.

Is there anything odd in this way of understanding? I'd appreciate it very much if you give me any advice.

paco
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Paco,

I just wanted to acknowledge that I saw your post. I'll need more time to think about it and will answer later.

Jim
Hello

What is *** to me about the use of the subjunctive mood are rules of "time one-step advanced than tense" and "time-freedom from the main clause tense"

1. time one-step advanced than tense
Subjunctive's semantic time is one-step advanced than the syntactic tense.
They are demanding Iraq be liberated. be : [time/future]=[tense/present]+1
I wish I were a bird. were : [time/prersent]=[tense/past]+1
I wish I had been a diligent student. had been : [time/past]=[tense/past perfect]+1

2. time-freedom from the main clause tense
[Subjunctive's tense +1] is absolutely equal to the time in relative to speaking time (present).
I wished I had been a diligent student. I was in fact not a diligent student. [time/past]
I wish I had been a diligent student. I was in fact not a diligent student. [time/past]
I will wish I had been a diligent student. I was in fact not a diligent student. [time/past]

IF the one-step advance rule can be applied to will/would modals, "wil" connotes 'futurity' and "would" does 'present state'.

(3) volition (be glad to/wish to) [will+would]
[pres subj : rude / past subj : polite]
Won't you come with us? Wouldn't you come with us?
I will go with you. I would (like to) go with you.
They won't stop smoking. They wouldn't stop smoking.
(4) likelihood (be likely to) [subjunctive:will+would]
[pres subj : strong / past subj : soft]
My guess will be wrong. My guess would be wrong.

paco
Hi, Paco,

As I said above, I don't think of "will" and "would" as subjunctive in any way.

Independent of that, this "rude" vs. "polite" observation of yours doesn't work for my way of speaking English.
[pres subj : rude / past subj : polite]
Won't you come with us? Wouldn't you come with us?
I will go with you. I would (like to) go with you.
They won't stop smoking. They wouldn't stop smoking.


I hear "Won't you come with us?" as polite, certainly not particularly rude. A variant is "Won't you please come with us?"
I don't hear "Wouldn't you come with us?" as especially polite or rude. It doesn't even sound really idiomatic in comparison with "Wouldn't you like to come with us?"

I don't see the second pair as an illustration of 'rude/polite', either.

The only thing different to me about "They won't stop smoking" and "They wouldn't stop smoking" is tense. The first is present "They refuse to stop smoking", and the second is past "They refused to stop smoking".

So, in summary, I'd have to say that I don't see the contrast between "will" and "would" as the difference between indicative and subjunctive, but as a variety of differences: the difference between present and past is one (the 'smoking' example; the 'swimming' example); the difference between unconditional (I'll go with you (no matter what)) and conditional (I'd go with you (provided you paid, if you weren't going to be too long, if the weather were better, ...)) is another. I think the latter difference (unconditional / conditional) is what you are calling "strong"/"soft" ("weak").

CJ
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Hello CJ

Thank you for the reply. I feel I still didn't get the exact senses of will/would used in your speach. Every auxiliary verbs (modals) are diificult for me to grasp its sense. "Will/would" are above all the ones most difficult. You native speakers (and some ESL) could acquire those senses without reasoning them in the brain. But in my case, my brain can't store anything I didn't get the reason why it is so. I think I might be the worst learner of English in the world...sigh

paco
Paco,

Don't be ridiculous! You are very very far from being the worst learner of English in the world! I think you're doing fine -- excellent, in fact! There's nothing wrong with recognizing the areas where you have the most difficulty. That's how you know what to work on next.

I'd say keep up the good work. No need to sigh!

Jim
Hello CJ

Thank you for your compliment. But I'm really too ignorant about modals. It may be because I learned English to read and write engineering articles. In engineering documents they rarely use modals like 'would' or 'might'.

By the way I am now reading an article titled as [url="http://vivaldi.sfs.nphil.uni-tuebingen.de:16080/~arnim10/Lehre/WS04.5/Tempusseminar/will.would%20... "]"Moods and Modalities for Will and Would"[/url]. What I am not quite sure about is the meanings of 'epistemic' and 'metaphysical' used in this article. If you have a time, could you cast a look on this article and tell me what they mean by these words. Sorry for annoying you with this kind of trivial matter.

paco
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