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Is this sentence grammatically correct, and is 'your ensuring' here an example of the subjunctive?

"We appreciate your ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving the office locked at night."

It seems to me that "We appreciate your ensuring" could be swapped out with "We would appreciate it if you ensured", which suggests to me that 'your ensuring' is in the subjunctive mood (given that the subordinate clause of a conditional takes the subjunctive mood).

I'm curious about this because the sentence looks and feels fine to me, but I've never seen an explanation of the subjunctive which included it's appearance in this form (possessive pronoun + gerund).

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Gerunds have no grammatical mood. –  Anonym Jun 3 at 2:03
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It doesn't look like the subjunctive to me. "We request (that) all workstations be switched off..." is a subjunctive. –  medica Jun 3 at 2:11
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The clause your ensuring (that) all workstations are switched off is an ordinary gerund complement clause, the direct object of We appreciate. As with many gerunds the subject is genitive; this is the POSS-`ing` gerund complementizer.It is not subjunctive; don't go looking for more examples, because there is no real subjunctive in English; there are only a bunch of idioms and strange constructions, none of which is very common. There's nothing like European subjunctive mood here. –  John Lawler Jun 3 at 2:19
    
John Lawler, your 'POSS -ing' complement explanation is just what I was looking for before I posted this question. Not sure what you mean I shouldn't go looking for though. Do you you mean there's no point in looking for examples of 'true' subjunctives in English, because they don't exist? –  Dale Newton Jun 3 at 3:07
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@DaleNewton Despite attempts to will it out of existence, there is indeed still a subjunctive mood. Compare the two sentences i. I insist that he is there and ii) I insist that he be there. It is slipping out of the vernacular quite quickly, however. –  Anonym Jun 3 at 4:21

3 Answers 3

The sentence is grammatically correct. "your ensuring..." is simply a very long gerund phrase, and can act as the complement to "We appreciate" in the normal manner.

However, as you say, the sentence could also be written "We would appreciate it if you ensured..." while remaining correct. (Note that the meaning would change slightly, as the altered sentence implies that the ensuring has not yet happened, while the original implies that it is over and done with.)

The altered sentence would simply be a conditional statement reversed from its usual order. Normally one would cast it as a conditional the following way:

"If you ensured..., we would appreciate it."

However, reversing the order of the clauses changes neither the meaning nor the correctness of the formation. Note that, as you suggested, "ensured" is in the subjunctive mood here. However, "your ensuring" not in any way subjunctive. Subjunctives are formed by using the past tense of the verb in question. "Your ensuring..." is a gerund, formed by using the present participle.

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Thanks. I would add that though the subjunctive (if we accept that there really is such a thing in English) can also be formed from other forms of the verb (present simple form, eg. "I suggest that he study"; also passive form and present continuous) –  Dale Newton Jun 3 at 2:40

In Spanish, the subjunctive typically follows the equivalent of that.. or which, therefore your sentence requires it to be subjunctive.

We appreciate your ensuring that all workstations....

Still, there isn't exactly a subjunctive in English. Well, at least your example sentence doesn't demonstrate it.

We would appreciate your ensuring that all workstations are switched off before leaving the office locked at night

Now that is a subjunctive mood. The statement makes the act of ensuring ... skeptical.

If I weren't so tall, I could fit inside your house.

This statement makes the idea of shrinking seem possible. It almost sounds like a wish, and that is also a subjunctive mood.

Unlike Spanish though, English has no exact tense to demonstrate a subjunctive mood. English subjunctives usually take the third person plural form of the past tense OR they use the infinitive.

If I had wings, I would fly high in the sky.

If I died tomorrow, what would you say?

When we get to town, I want you to act normal

David needs to have more patience

It is imperative that you practice using your musical instruments.

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Yes I thought about adding the 'would' but I wasn't sure if it was strictly necessary to convey the 'skeptical' nature of 'ensuring'. I've seen it appear often in notices in public spaces in that form (without the 'would' - it now seems incorrectly), where a request of some kind is being made, as in my example. –  Dale Newton Jun 3 at 2:50

As in a previous question, I wish to advise that we should avoid confusing non-finite speech with subjunctive speech. Both forms of speech exhibit unboundedness. Let me repeat my explanation:

  1. Non-finite speech is unbounded to time and material. Non-finite phrases allow themselves to be transported to any time in past, present or future and does not have to reference specific instances or quantity of subjects. Gerunds are a form of non-finite speech.

  2. Subjunctive speech is conducted in imaginary time. It is spoken without requiring that its proposals be actualized.

  3. It is possible a speech is both non-finite and subjunctive.

Non-finite phrase being flexibly used unchanged in various finite-time, infinite-time or imaginary-time situations:

  • (gerund in present, singular)
    We appreciate his {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.
  • (gerund in past, singular)
    We appreciated his {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.
  • (gerund used by present, plural)
    We appreciate their {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.
  • (gerund in subjunctive)
    We will appreciate their {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.
  • (gerund in subjunctive)
    We would appreciate your {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.
  • (to-less infinitive in present subjunctive)
    We propose that you {switch all workstations off before leaving}.
  • (to-less infinitive used by present, singular)
    We appreciate that she {switch all workstations off before leaving}.
  • (to-less infinitive used by present, plural)
    We appreciate that they {switch all workstations off before leaving}.
  • we appreciate they {switch all workstations off before leaving}.

Whereas, non-finite speech must be brought about by grammatical means, subjunctive is a mood that can be brought about either grammatically or contextually.

People like to say that there is not actually subjunctive grammar in English. For that reason, we have to either anachronistically borrow from the past tenses or use contextual implications to indicate the subjunctive. Use of anachronistic tenses is a very effective way to play in our minds that a speech is operating in imaginary time.

For example,

  • (to-less infinitive, actualized, but not specific to any finite instance)
    We are thankful that she {return from work}.
    We are thankful that she {return from work everyday}.

  • (subjunctive, non-actualized by employing anachronistic past tense)
    We understand that she {could return to work}.

  • (subjunctive, contextually non-actualized)
    We propose that she {return to work}.

  • (subjunctive, contextually non-actualized)
    {To be or not to be} is the dilemma.

  • (subjunctive, contextually non-actualized)
    We propose your {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving}.

  • (subjunctive, non-actualized both contextually and by virtue of anachronistic past tense)
    We propose your {ensuring all workstations are switched off before leaving} if we hired you.

Therefore, your sentence is non-finite but actualized and therefore, not subjunctive.

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Subjunctive mood thro non-anachronistic tense hinged on the interpretation of the meanings of appreciate and propose. –  Blessed Geek Jun 3 at 9:55

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