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Some interpreters have expressed concern that Charles oscillate[s] between. . . .

Does anyone think this use of the subjunctive is wrong? Or does anyone have parallel exemplary examples (præferably from litterature or scholarship)?

  • Please provide the full sentence. – Jim Oct 16 '15 at 16:15
  • I don’t see how that will help or make a difference, but the sentence I am actually using is the following. Some interpreters have expressed concern that Aristotle’s definition define the product of kinesis rather than kinesis itself, or fail to exclude it, and the appearance it does is commonly said to engender the ‘product puzzle’. – Toothrot Oct 16 '15 at 16:21
  • Can you explain why you think a subjunctive mood should be used? – user140086 Oct 16 '15 at 17:28
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If you are asking about archaic English (not at all clear from your post), the subjunctive would not have been used with expressed concern here, as the fact that "Charles oscillates between ..." is not counterfactual.

Looking in Google books, it appears that one could have used the subjunctive with expressed concern, but only with situations that were not currently the case. For example, one finds both the indicative and the subjunctive used with is concerned (the idiom expressed concern entered the language too late to be used with the subjunctive).

I give two examples:

And as the publick is concerned, that the due and legal methods be observed in the prosecution of offenders, so likewise doth the security of every single man in the nation depend upon it.

The subjunctive is used correctly here, because the writer does not believe that the due and legal methods are observed.

And your memorialist is concerned that he has occasion to say, that, upon examining the maps lately published at London, together with a large work, intitled, "A complete System of Geography," &c. (which is published with his majesty's royal privilege and licence), which maps are said to be drawn by his majesty's geographer, he finds that not only both the lakes Cadaracui and Erie, and all the land lying on the north, together with the great villages of the Iriquois, and a great part of the country lying on the south sides of those lakes, are thereby assigned to the French as part of Canada.

The indicative is used correctly here, because the writer does indeed have occasion to say that the maps are unsatisfactory.

  • I don’t believe the writer’s belief that due and legal methods are not in fact observed is what causes the subjective in your first ex. – Toothrot Oct 16 '15 at 22:21
  • @Lawrence: I guess you argue that the first example says the publick recommends that due and legal methods be observed, so it's the mandative subjunctive. Requests and demands are (at least to some extent) counterfactual, and thus take the subjunctive. Whereas in your sentence (from the comments) Aristotle's definition is not counterfactual, and thus should take the indicative. – Peter Shor Oct 16 '15 at 23:49
  • Shor, I think some subjunctives are so because what is expressed by the verb is not stated (indicated) by the speaker. I don’t think counterfactuality is essential. – Toothrot Oct 17 '15 at 0:07
  • @Lawrence: do you have any examples of what you mean? – Peter Shor Oct 17 '15 at 1:25
  • One example from English is If it be, why seems it so particular with thee in Hamlet. The queen is not suggesting that it is not (common; she said so herself), but is using the sj. to indicate that she is referring to the prince’s and not her own assertion. (Or possibly to indicate potentiality?) In German, the so-called præsent subjunctive or subjunctive I is used for indirect speech with no implication of counterfacuality. – Toothrot Oct 17 '15 at 1:56
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The subjunctive mode (or mood) has fallen on hard times lately. Its use is relatively rare. In theory, it is a way to indicate, for example, the "must-ness" or "ought-ness" of a particular action, as in,

My teacher insisted I behave with decorum while in class.

Or,

"He strongly suggested I get my act together!"

In your sentence, however, I fail to detect any ought-ness or must-ness:

Some interpreters have expressed concern that Aristotle’s definition define the product of kinesis rather than kinesis itself . . ..

Now if the sentence were (notice my application of another use of the subjunctive) to be worded as follows:

Aristotle's peers insisted he define kinesis instead of defining both kinesis and the product of kinesis. . .,

then I could understand the use of the subjunctive, but I don't think that's what the writer had in mind.

Moreover, as the sentence stands, not only is its use of the subjunctive incorrect, but it is poorly written, to boot! Here is what the writer said:

Some interpreters have expressed concern that Aristotle’s definition define the product of kinesis rather than kinesis itself, or fail to exclude it, and the appearance it does is commonly said to engender the ‘product puzzle’.

Here is what I think the writer of the sentence meant to say:

Some interpreters have expressed concern that Aristotle, instead of defining kinesis, defined the product of kinesis, not kinesis itself (or simply failed to exclude the product of kinesis), commonly engendering the 'product puzzle.'

As to what the sentence means, well, that's another issue! I'd probably need to read considerably more of the text from which the sentence came in order to say what it means.

  • (1) Thanks for pointing out that the lack of a ‘must’ speaks against the sj. One could probably use ‘concern that’ + sj. to express a wish. (2) It is inaccurate that the sj. always expresses a must: think of constructions with lest. (3) Anything of the form ‘… instead of doing A, did B, not Α’ is obviously poorly written. (4) If you think the original sentence is poorly written, apart from the sj., pointing out why would be more helpful than the statement of your unobvious opinion. – Toothrot Oct 16 '15 at 20:58
  • PS. There are also statements expressing possibility. If it be, why seems it so particular with thee? This ex. is of course archaïc, but whether something is simply incorrect and whether it is (too) archaïc are separate quæstions. – Toothrot Oct 16 '15 at 21:43
  • 'Teachers have insisted that students behave with decorum while in class.' does not disambiguate. This is the classic problem for those who insist on this usage (often instead of the indicative) in such cases. 'Teachers have insisted that students should / in fact behave with decorum while in class.' is/are the disambiguating solution/s. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '15 at 22:23
  • @EdwinAshworth: I made a few judicious edits in an attempt to clarify (I mean disambiguate) my answer. Frankly, the meaning of the OP's sentence exemplar is a bit of a mystery to me. I'd probably need to read a great deal more than just a sentence to make heads or tales of what's being said. – rhetorician Oct 17 '15 at 2:11

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