Why is the phrase "I hope this computer work" unacceptable? The word "hope" makes the phrase subjunctive, so why isn't it correct to use the infinitive verb form?

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    I hope it be right to say this is how English uses the subjunctive with "hope". Except we don't any more, because it's dialectal/archaic. – FumbleFingers Apr 13 '14 at 3:23
  • @FumbleFingers I wish it were right to say we ever did use the subjunctive with "hope". Except we don't seem to have done so...? – wwkudu Apr 14 '14 at 7:46
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    @wwkudu: I hope it be not presumptive of me to point out that Shakespeare used the subjunctive more than once with "hope" (and even more often with "think", as can be seen in that link). – FumbleFingers Apr 14 '14 at 12:03
  • @FumbleFingers It might have been (presumptive) were it not for the error of hyperbole into which I fell. By ever I could more helpfully have said hardly ever... and then the bard was one for pushing the envelope. – wwkudu Apr 15 '14 at 6:28

Different languages have different verbs that require (with varying degrees of strictness) the use of the subjunctive. In English, we do not generally use the subjunctive with the verb hope. Compare the following, (using the verb to be, as it is more clearly distinguished in the subjunctive):

I hope the computer is working.
I wish the computer were working.

*I hope this computer work.

is ungrammatical (hence the asterisk, which marks ungrammatical sentences) because it is short for

  • I hope that this computer works.

which is grammatical.

The that complementizer introducing the tensed object complement clause

  • (that) this computer works

is optional, and may be deleted, as in the original example.

But this leaves a tensed clause, in the present tense,
and that means you have to add the 3rd Person Singular Present Tense suffix, -s, to the verb:

  • I hope this computer works.
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    This doesn't answer the question at all, as it doesn't explain why the subjunctive is not an option. – Pierre Arlaud Apr 13 '14 at 11:37
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    @ArlaudPierre But I think John's stance is that there's essentially no reason to even dream of it being a subjunctive in the first place, so that issue then disappears. – Neil Coffey Apr 13 '14 at 13:46
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    @NeilCoffey My point is, what you think John's stance actually is, is no where to be explicitely found in his answer. – Pierre Arlaud Apr 13 '14 at 15:14
  • @ArlaudPierre: I posted the answer above after having commented on DavidM's answer. My stance (more like a puzzled, disinterested slouch, actually) is fairly clear there. The "English subjunctive", like ye and thou and many other dead bits of English, is still around in lots of fixed phrases and idioms and rare constructions; but it certainly isn't a useful or helpful concept for learning English, or learning English grammar. So, , if you were in any doubt, I completely agree with Neil Coffey and David M. on the topic of the "English Subjunctive". – John Lawler Apr 13 '14 at 15:41
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    @JohnLawler Still, I'll be stubborn and say that, although I agree with you (I'm not saying the subjunctive is still alive in English), this doesn't appear in the answer: OP knows that there is an s in the 3rd Person singular of the present tense, but he was asking about subjunctive and you sort of found a way around the question. People shouldn't have to ask you in comments to extract your opinion or have to guess your stance. The discussion is closed. – Pierre Arlaud Apr 13 '14 at 16:13

The answer to your question is: because.

More seriously, the subjunctive in English is largely a vestigial organ. There are no particularly hard and fast rules that regulate verb usage or tense in English in the way that a Romance language would require.

In other words, in effect there really is no true subjunctive in English, but rather several ways of approximating it.

If translating the subjunctive from a Romance language to English, instead of trying to make our verbs agree with a mood, we merely change things like word order, the verb itself, etc.

Consider one of the few subjunctive uses in English:

If I were ...

There is very little difference in meaning from:

If I was ...

A Romance language would require that this sentence be conjugated differently. But, English doesn't particularly care.

TL;DR You don't need to use the subjunctive in English because there really isn't one.

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    That's right. And this is the problem that talking about "the English subjunctive" as if it were real: innocent teachers and students believe that BS, and try to follow the rules. Note 'The word "hope" makes the phrase subjunctive'. This comes from describing the meaning instead of the grammar; people think any kind of supposition causes the phrase to be redefined as "subjunctive", which resets all the rules. – John Lawler Apr 13 '14 at 4:00
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    @JohnLawler I supposed I should have credited you in my answer. Some of your tirades against the notion of a subjunctive in English have forced me to do enough research of my own to be convinced of its near non-existence. The romantic in me considers it in the same way I consider that the dinosaurs are technically still alive in the form of modern day birds . . . – David M Apr 13 '14 at 4:04
  • It's more like they're still alive in the form of modern day dragons. Because dragons are imaginary mythology, arguably about dinosaurs, and that's pretty similar to zombie grammar. – John Lawler Apr 13 '14 at 4:13
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    We can only hope that the subjunctive be allowed to die naturally through lack of use. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 13 '14 at 7:41
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    @JohnLawler You give me hope for humanity. I can't even get through to people about prescriptivist grammar! – Two-Bit Alchemist Apr 13 '14 at 12:37

The problem is basically that your entire question is based on a false premise. There's no a priori reason to state/expect that '"hope" makes the phrase subjunctive' (which is a nonsensical notion in itself).

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    In the sentence "I wish I were you" - which is subjunctive - there also isn't a "prior reason". – Tankman六四 Dec 26 '16 at 22:58

I can imagine that in some languages to hope is connected with a subjunctive clause. But that is no general rule for all languages. English and German don't use a subjunctive after to hope.


In terms of common usage we do see "hope" used without the non-subjunctive mood. But if I want to stress that the "hope" isn't very likely, or that I intend to be sarcastic, the subjunctive mood seems to offer a good alternative where I don't need to go all the way to "wish" which suggests a very unlikely scenario.

protected by Mitch Jan 18 '16 at 17:39

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