In the Wikipedia article about the subjunctive mood, I read that the future subjunctive of own for the first person singular is I were to own.
In which situations is the future subjunctive used in English?
I really wouldn’t call that a future subjunctive. It’s merely a periphrastic construct that emphasizes the irregular were so that its counter factuality comes through more strongly. It’s actually a past subjunctive form. Witness:
As you see, there’s no difference between the last two entries. Therefore, there is no future subjunctive here at all.
Compare this with languages that do have a future subjunctive:
By the way, the supposedly future subjunctive case from English would be simply this in Spanish:
The first clause is in the past subjunctive and the second is in the conditional.
I’ve never before heard English described as somehow having a future subjunctive: would that it were so! I submit that that particular Wikipedia page has simply gotten it wrong.
"If I were to own a dictionary, I would know how to spell"
The type of construction referred to as the "future subjunctive" belongs to the more general type of construction with modal meaning
which is used to indicate a future action that is thought to be iminent and probable, and is used especially to express obligation, e.g.,
Let's call it the prospective construction. When the verb [be] appears in its preterite form, there are two main interpretations. First is to indicate a reference time in the past, as in
Which means that at some time in the past, it was thought probable that Thomas would leave on the 3:30 train (regardless of what may have eventually happened). The preterite form, however, is not restricted to indicating past time. Instead, preterite forms may take on a modal meaning, used to refer to contemplated or counterfactual actions, e.g.,
The verb [be] is unique in English because it has an alternate form (sometimes called the irrealis) with similar function as the modal preterite. The following sentence has similar meaning with the previous one:
In the case where the irrealis form of [be] is used in the prospective construction, you refer to a prospective meaning coupled with a counterfactual meaning. Counterfactual meanings often involve future actions, but not always, so I think it would be more appropriate to call this construction proximate irrealis, or something along those lines.
But consider these examples:
1, 2, 5 and 6 are corrent constructions; 3 and 4 are incorrect. I would describe 1 and 2 as in the indicative, 5 and 6 as future subjunctives. 2 expresses conditionality and uncertainty, and overlaps in meaning with 5, but to my mind, in 5 uncertainty is expressed in the conditional clause in a way it is not in 2. And at the least, the correctness of the use of the form "went" in what is clearly a statement about the future is best justified by recognizing it as a different form, even though the forms are homonyms.
Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but I believe the future subjunctive in English still has a (barely) discernible function.
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