Could you please help me understand why Simpson, in his Stylistics, uses subjunctive mood in the sentence below:

"The second problem is about what would hapen should a phrase that did contain adjectives suddenly appear in the text."

Sorry if you find the answer to this question too obvious

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    "The second problem is about what would happen if a phrase (that did contain adjectives) should suddenly appear in the text."
    – user140086
    May 11, 2016 at 14:27
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    That's not a subjunctive construction. "Appear" is in the plain (infinitive) form because it follows the modal verb "should".
    – BillJ
    May 11, 2016 at 15:58
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    Yeah, I agree with @Rathony. In fact, I insist the word's placement be changed. [Hey, I just found another use for the subjunctive: when something is mandatory, as when "I insist . . .]. We also know the subjunctive mood (or mode) can be used when talking about hypothetical situations; you know, "What if I were [not "was"] to punch you in the nose?" I'm not going to, of course, but we can pretend I do and then you pretend you've been punched in the nose by me and imagine how it feels, how you react, what you say when it happens, and so on. May 11, 2016 at 16:53
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    @rhetorician Yes, but "appear" in the OP's example is not subjunctive. Btw, "were" is the "irrealis" mood, not subjunctive.
    – BillJ
    May 11, 2016 at 17:38
  • @BillJ: I'll have to defer to you in this. Maybe I should stick to rhetorical matters and leave the grammatical matters to others!? Don May 12, 2016 at 7:42

1 Answer 1


The statement can be rephrased as: The second problem is about what would happen if a phrase that contained adjectives suddenly appeared in the text. In this instance, it can be clearly seen that the statement pertains to a contingent or hypothetical situation. Note that in this rephrasing, in the subordinate clause beginning with if, the following verb will be in the simple past tense.

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