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This is another strange example from South Park I am posting : "How about you come up with the reason why we don’t break your arms?". Why is the present used in the second part of the sentence? How is it called in grammar? Shouldn't it be "we shouldn’t/wouldn't break your arms".

Thank you

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But you haven't changed the tense. "We shouldn't" is the exact same tense as "we don't". Just a different verb. –  RegDwigнt Jul 11 '13 at 10:50
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I personally agree that the word "shouldn't" would work better in this context. However, South Park is not trying to speak well, but instead to satirize people and organisations (and possibly just to make money). Don't consider South Park to be a role model for English! –  Paddy Landau Jul 11 '13 at 14:10
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This is what comes from telling people there is a future tense; they expect it to be used for everything in the future. And it's not. Zombie rules. –  John Lawler Jul 11 '13 at 15:32
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@JohnLawler: and zombies rule,alas. –  TimLymington Jul 11 '13 at 17:15
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@JohnLawler; just watch out for Lynn Truss's Radical Wing of the Apostrophe Preservation Society. –  TimLymington Jul 16 '13 at 23:03
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2 Answers

up vote 0 down vote accepted

You might be interested in perusing the wikipedia entry on the present subjunctive in English.

The main relevant part here is:

The form is called the present subjunctive because it resembles the present indicative in form, not because it need refer to the present time. In fact this form can equally well be used in sentences referring to past, future or hypothetical time (the time frame is normally expressed in the verb of the main clause).

IOW, in English we often use the form of the present subjunctive to refer to hypotheticals (eg: perhaps breaking someone's limbs), regardless of time.

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The present subjunctive is dead even among educated speakers, which the South Park characters aren't. How about you come up with a reason why they be using it. –  Peter Shor Jul 11 '13 at 15:21
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I do believe this is the first time in my long SE history I've gotten an accepted answer with no votes whatsoever on it. There ought to be a badge of some kind for this. Cassandra perhaps. :-) –  T.E.D. Jul 11 '13 at 23:26
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No, looks fine to me. As to answer why the present is used is because the action or intention of breaking your arms is in present. Changing it to should or would wouldn't change the tense but its meaning. Using should would make it more like an obligation and would more like a conditional act.

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