More on Subjunctive in noun clauses

 

A:

The subjunctive in noun clauses in British English is getting rarer and rarer, being supplanted by the indicative in many cases. Here’s a sample from British fiction, where the indicative is especially common:

(a) Roberta had given them directions, suggesting that they headed straight for the old barn.
(b)

My dear husband insisted that we came here for the holidays

American English, too, uses the indicative sometimes, but rarely. From a recent statement by an American politician:

(c)

Given the situation, it is essential that their questions are answered

In contrast, the norm in American English is the subjunctive. The indicative is gaining ground, but the subjunctive is well established. British English, however, uses the indicative often and also makes heavy use of should + verb, especially in formal style.

The indicative usually does not affect the meaning of an utterance—that is, it doesn’t indicate extra urgency or necessarily strong will of the subject . There is a very good reason, however, to use the subjunctive if the utterance can be misinterpreted. For example, both insist and suggest have two distinct meanings.

Suggest can mean:

1) “say indirectly, imply, give an impression,” as in

(d)

She suggested that he didn’t tell the truth to his parents (She implied that he really did not tell the truth to his parents.

(e)

The senator suggested that his opponent stole money from the people
(The senator implied that his opponent stole/ had stolen money from the people.)

and, it can also mean:

2) “say with the intention of influencing someone’s behavior”:

(f)

She suggested that he not tell the truth to his parents
(She thought that he should not tell the truth to his parents—they would be too upset.)

(g)

The senator suggested that his opponent tell the truth about the money.
(The senator thought that his opponent should tell the truth about the money.)

Insist has the same two kinds of meanings:

1) “say very directly, try to convince," as in

(h)

He insisted that his daughter spoke English well.
(He said very forcefully, against all evidence to the contrary, that his daughter spoke English well.)

(i)

My aunt insists that she was born in 1960, even though her three older brothers all remember that she was born in 1955
(My aunt said very forcefully, against the statements of her brothers to the contrary, that she was born in 1960.)

2) “say with the intention of influencing someone’s behavior”:

(j)

He insisted that his daughter speak English well
(He put pressure on her to speak English well—that’s what he wanted her to do.)

(k)

My grandmother insists that everybody come to her house every New Year’s Day.
(She practically forces the whole family to be at her house every New Year’s Day.

Students should learn to use the subjunctive, but along the way, sooner or later, they will encounter the indicative. A good exercise might be to ask them to notice usages in the printed media, to see just how these verbs are really used.

Marilyn Martin

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