7

I am just curious, how often this form of Subjunctive mood is used and what alternatives are available to express the very same thing.

Examples:

  • I suggest that he implement a budget cut in March.
  • It’s essential that they be heard

and so on.

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    It's extremely common in the US, but less common in the UK. – Peter Shor Sep 11 '13 at 14:27
  • How would you rephrase these expressions if you were lived in the UK? – user51702 Sep 11 '13 at 14:34
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    With the indicative. "I suggest that he implements a budget cut in March." – Andrew Leach Sep 11 '13 at 14:49
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    @Andrew Leach Along with the version with the indicative, the UK speakers also use a version with another form of subjunctive, different from the one in user51702's question. "I suggest that he should implement a budget cut in March." – Talia Ford Sep 11 '13 at 15:36
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    @Mynamite: Look at this Google Ngram. Brits use "suggest that he should go" nearly as often as "suggest that he go". Americans use "suggest that he should go" quite rarely, and use the subjunctive more frequently than Brits use the two constructions combined. – Peter Shor Sep 16 '13 at 0:31
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The subjuntive is quite common in the US (and required for proper grammar in formal contexts).

It's taught in our public schools and most of us are pretty adept at using the subjunctive for conditionals/suggestions/hypotheticals, even in casual conversations.

The rephrased example in the indicative mood (i.e., "I suggest that he implements ...") sounds horrid to my American ear. To me that's not at all grammatically correct. Most Americans would use "implement" in that sentence instead.

The example with "suggest" would occur more frequently. The bare infintive "be" is used commonly too though, albeit slightly less common.

The verb most commonly used in AmE with the subjunctive mood is "were," as in, "If I were to win the lottery, I'd buy a new car." It's most common in the first person singular, but it does occur in the 3rd person as in, "If she were to get her teeth fixed, she'd be much prettier."

In your case:

"If he were to (-or- should he) implement a new budget, we'd increase our gross profit margin."

"Were he to implement the new budget, he'd drastically improve his unit's performance."

"He might implement the new budget were I to (-or- if I were to) provide him additional support."

etc.

We tend to contract auxiliaries and modals in the US whenever possible in all but the most formal speech/writing. Obviously this is dialogue, so I opted for less formal.

Anecdotally, I find that Americans are more self-conscious about being perceived as stupid or uneducated. We are concerned about people thinking we can't speak proper English.

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    I agree that “I suggest that he implements” sounds either ungrammatical or baffling, and doesn’t make sense to the American ear. Some people in the UK find our confusion/distaste/misunderstanding of such to-us-ungrammatical things completely baffling, but it is nonetheless true. It’s just how we speak. The other way sounds wrong to us. – tchrist Sep 21 '13 at 23:57
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    Interestingly, I have never met a Brit who found “I suggest (that) he implement…” unacceptable, but I have met several Americans who ‘corrected’ me when I used the subjunctive. Same goes for “If I were to”, where I have only experienced Americans (though from all parts of the country) saying that only “If I was to” sounds right to them. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 22 '13 at 8:27
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In UK English at least, the following are all generally used to some extent with the functions of languages that have subjunctive forms (N.B. it's not so much that English necessarily has 'subjunctive' forms as such, but more that these other structures are equivalents):

(1) The infinitive ("I suggest he implement it")

(2) The ordinary conjugated verb form ("I suggest he implements it")

(3) A modal ("I suggest he should/might/ought to implement it")

(4) The infinitive specified with "for" + subject ("I suggest for him to implement it")

(5) An -ing form ("I suggest him implementing it")

Now, which is possible/common depends on the host construction and on the precise intent: "I suggest [he does it]" and "I suggest [him doing it] (as a solution)" have different syntax and different nuances; as subjects of verbs, (1) and (2) are not possible, etc.

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    These two have very different meanings to us: “I suggest he does it to please his wife” and “I suggest he do it to please his wife”. The first knows that he is doing it and is suggesting a reason why; the second says that he is not doing so now and needs to do it for that reason. If you say the first when you mean the second, we will misunderstand you. – tchrist Sep 22 '13 at 1:00
  • @tchrist In principle, the same can be true in UK English. In practice, the conjugated form is commonly used with both meanings (after all, it's rare for there to be ambiguity). Incidentally, I should stress that all five of the forms I mention have potentially different meanings and I'm not denying that for a minute. My point is that one way or another, they together are the main forms that cover the functions covered by subjunctive forms in languages that have them. – Neil Coffey Sep 22 '13 at 6:04
  • Numbers (1) and (3) are the only ones that don't grate on my ears, which suggests they are the only forms used in the US. – Peter Shor Nov 8 '13 at 11:23
  • @PeterShor - I think all of these constructions exist in US English, though, even if these specific examples don't work. So, for example, if (5) doesn't work for you, may be "Him arriving late was the main problem" does. (I was trying obviously to pick ones with the same verb-- I think all of these work in UK English). – Neil Coffey Nov 11 '13 at 3:42
  • @Neil: yes, we have all these constructions in U.S. English, just not with the verbs suggest or demand. (Or presumably other verbs that usually take the subjunctive, but I haven't considered them all so can't be sure.) – Peter Shor Nov 11 '13 at 7:56
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I'm not sure what you mean exactly by "this form" unless you mean using the subjunctive generally in modern English. Several common uses come to mind:

  • Be that as it may...
  • Should that be the case...
  • It's best that he leave now.

Many of the uses of the subjunctive in English occur in expressions, such as the above. They can usually be rewritten without using the subjunctive fairly easily:

  • Although that is true...
  • If that is the case...
  • He should (needs to) leave now.

For your examples:

  • He should implement a budget cut in March.
  • It is essential for them to be heard.
  • They need to be heard.

As for how common using the subjunctive is, I would suggest that it is more common in academic settings, formal writing (including legal and ceremonial settings) and among people who speak in a more formal manner. A quick search will reveal many sources for common uses of the subjunctive:

I'm limited to two links right now so I'm afraid that's all I can share.

0

I think that 'Garner's Modern American Usage' has a useful article on the subjunctive. The subjunctive use of verbs do serve good purpose in expressing certain notions such as contrari-to-factness, hypothesis, suggestions, etc.

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