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When reading a discussion about whether the Titanic could have avoided sinking, I saw a sentence that puzzled me a lot, as following:

– it would probably have survived. [When a ship hits an iceberg head on, all the force would be transferred back to the ship], so it wouldn’t have ripped open, but crumpled round, so only 2-3 compartments would have been breached.

My question lies in this part (as included in the square bracket): 'When a ship hits an iceberg head on, all the force would be transferred back to the ship.'

I have no question with the 'when' clause, but the latter clause: 'all the force would be transferred back to the ship'. This part seems to be in subjunctive mood. But why is it put in subjunctive mood? Is it unreal? Isn't it a fact that 'When a ship hits an iceberg head on, all the force will be transferred back to the ship'? I wonder why it has to be 'all the force would be transferred...'. What's implied of the author's intention in using 'would' instead of 'will'.

As far as I know, subjunctive mood can indicate 'unreal, imagined, unlikely things, hypothesis, and in some cases, to show politeness, as in 'would you do...'. This mood can also be a 'soft voice' and make a statement sound less assertive as in 'I would argue...'. So what exactly is implied by that sentence?

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    There is no subjunctive mood here, so your question in incredibly confusing. There is no morphological inflection of the verb the way there arguably is in If only it were so! and in Be it ever so humble. Prefixing an infinitive with a modal verb doth no subjunctive make.
    – tchrist
    May 3 at 15:27
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    Were a ship to hit an iceberg head on, all the force would be transferred back to the ship .... May 3 at 16:34
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    I agree with the first comment that there is no subjunctive clause in your example. I do agree with you, however, that "would" is inappropriate -- the verb "be" is required, as in "when a ship hits an iceberg head on, all the force is transferred back to the ship".
    – BillJ
    May 4 at 6:08
  • Thanks for your kind answer. If it's not subjuntive, what's the implied meaning in using 'all the forces would be transferred back...' instead of 'all the forces will be transferred back...'?
    – Eglantine
    May 4 at 8:17
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    Were a ship to hit an iceberg head on, all the force would be transferred back to the ship ....This sentence makes good sense to me. It's the right form to imagine a scenario
    – Eglantine
    May 4 at 8:17

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It's a bastardised sentence: the problem is with hits, which doesn't go with would be or would have. Would be certainly is not subjunctive (which is either be or were for the verb to be).

Your sentence, talking about a general ship hitting an iceberg, could start "When a ship hits an iceberg..." but should then continue in the present tense (albeit with conditionals):

When a ship hits an iceberg head on, all the force is transferred back to the ship, so it wouldn’t be ripped open, but crumpled round, and only 2–3 compartments would be breached.

The subjunctive mood generally expresses intention, suggestion or desire: "We suggest she visit the doctor," or in your sentence "I ask that all the force be transferred back to the ship."

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