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I'm wondering if "make sure" can take the subjunctive mood of a verb. Take this sentence for example:

Loki would be disappointed in me if I did not make sure this was the true casket.

What if I said:

Loki would be disappointed in me if I did not make sure this were the true casket.

There surely is a feeling of uncertainty, it could, hypothetically, not be the real casket, that's why he has to "make sure", although I'll be the first one to admit it sounds weird, but most constructions with the subjunctive sound weird.

  • The use of the subjunctive doesn't always line up with the distinction of hypothetical vs. non-hypothetical. For example, "I ask the he remain here" uses the subjunctive, but is more or less a demand, rather than a musing about a possible future state (or rather, it's no less hypothetical than any other future construction). – siride Oct 11 '13 at 2:41
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    "I ask that he remain here" uses a that +Infinitive clause, governed by the verb ask, and a few others. Nothing subjunctive, and certainly not the same as using were in the third person singular. Which is not appropriate here, unless the speaker is certain that this is not the true casket. The sentence with was (or is, if the casket still exists) is the correct one. Don't believe what they tell you about "subjunctive", unless they put it in scare quotes. There's no subjunctive mood in English, no matter what that nice teacher told you. – John Lawler Oct 11 '13 at 2:51
  • @JohnLawler I remember reading a pretty studious paper a few years ago aimed at proving there was no subjunctive in English. You don't happen to have written that? – Talia Ford Oct 11 '13 at 7:20
  • Found it. The well-versed denier was Keith Allan of Monash University, Melbourne. – Talia Ford Oct 11 '13 at 9:25
  • ... Obviously sheer nonsense. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 11 '13 at 12:03
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No: if you are to use what may conveniently be called the subjunctive, it comes in the if clause.

Loki would be disappointed in me if I were to lose it.

The make sure this was the true casket should be indicative.

  • +1. Good point, subject to John's qualification 'unless the speaker is certain that this is not the true casket'. – Barrie England Oct 11 '13 at 7:46
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Forget the subjunctive (most native speakers of British English already have). Where is the difference between these two sentences?

Loki would be disappointed in me if I did not make sure these were the true caskets.

Loki would be disappointed in me if I did not make sure these were the true caskets.

Exactly.

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I believe there are two kinds of subjunctives, the first one concerns hypothetical situation (past tense and would), the second concerns subjectivity, kind of subjective judgement with uncertainty ((should) be, except for the verb "wish"). In the case of "make sure", the latter usage is supposed to apply, as "make sure" involves an effort stemming from a subjective judgement that doing something is necessary or important even if it is not sure that the result can be achieved. By using subjuctive, the utterer concedes that "make sure" is a subjective effort and that the result is not always within control. However, the "(should) be" usage has fallen into complete obsolescence in the case of "make sure". And in the clause following "make sure", it is established practice to use indicative. Therefore I'd say "Loki would be disappointed in me if I did not make sure this was the true casket".

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    Welcome to EL&U. All of the above could be simply your own opinion. It needs considerable support from references. – Nigel J Jan 16 '18 at 18:17

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