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eg. 1 I have to be sharp and clever lest I go hungry? (infinitive)

eg. 2 John and his friends feared lest the inquiry promised into the extent of the hated forest areas would be carried out too rigorously? (past tense?).

Are both examples acceptable? I've read somewhere that the clause after 'lest' is usually in subjunctive mood and therefore the tense should be an infinitive? Are there other possibilities?

Thank you very much!

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Davo, NVZ, Laure, David Sep 1 '17 at 9:13

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    Answered at Is "lest" always followed by "should"? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '17 at 16:08
  • @EdwinAshworth Well, there's an answer there. But that's a different matter ... – Araucaria Aug 21 '17 at 16:16
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    @Araucaria A different matter? << Lest is generally followed by a verb clause in the subjunctive mood.... Some examples found online: I won’t waste your time responding point-by-point lest I give credence to unsubstantiated allegations and tortured innuendo. Now, lest I appear ungrateful for the relative privilege I personally enjoy in the world, let me be quick to acknowledge that fact here. Don’t push people too hard, lest you damage close friendships unnecessarily>>. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 21 '17 at 16:24
  • @EdwinAshworth Well, (in terms of that other answer) first you'd need to think that the use of past tense modals in English constituted a subjunctive mood - but that idea's highly contentious and eschewed by most modern linguists. – Araucaria Aug 22 '17 at 6:47
  • @Araucaria You'd better go there and address the problem then. And edit throughout a lot of threads. Essentially, 'What construction/s is/are used after 'lest'?' is a duplicate. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '17 at 7:18
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You put forward two sentences:

  • I have to be sharp and clever lest I go hungry? (infinitive)
  • John and his friends feared lest the inquiry promised into the extent of the hated forest areas would be carried out too rigorously? (past tense?).

You asked: "Are both examples acceptable?"

The answer is "no". "Lest...would" is not a standard construction. The verb should be either the subjunctive form (which isn't the same thing as an infinitive, but has the same form as the bare infinitive), as in your first example, or it should be a phrase of the form "should"+bare infinitive, e.g. "should go".

The two forms ("lest I go", "lest I should go") are interchangeable. Regardless of the tense of the verb in the main clause, both forms remain available and remain interchangeable.

"The idiomatic construction after 'lest' is 'should', or in exalted style the pure subjunctive; good writers rarely use 'shall', 'may' and 'might'... 'Will' and 'would' are merely a special form of the inability to distinguish between 'shall' and 'will'" (Fowler's Modern English Usage, 1965). While Fowler is sometimes too prescriptive, his advice here fits with that in other references in such as A Practical English Grammar (Oxford University Press, 1986), which recommends "should" here and does not mention the possibility of "would" or any other auxiliary. The Oxford English Dictionary has a "lest... might" from the great Scottish poet Robert Burns (1795), but all its more recent examples have either "should" or the subjunctive.

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