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I need to apply the subjunctive mood in present time in some translations from Spanish. I should do this, and although I know the common thing to do is to avoid it, this is a literary translation and it requires it explicitly.

So far I have been using the same criteria as in Spanish to determine when in present time I need to use subjunctive:

  • "En búsqueda de una entidad que le brinde supremo deleite".
  • "In search of an entity that give her such supreme delight".

In Spanish subjunctive mood need is easy to test, by testing whether you can say with "que" before the verb, which would be the equivalent of "that" in English. However, I am not sure this is correct to do so in English, or whether the whole set of the correct of subjunctive mood in Spanish is grammatically correct (even if uncommon) in English too. Other possible ways I could be using it:

  • "It is known by anyone that have ever done it".
  • "She seeks a guardian that protect her always".
  • "It is crucial that there be someone that maintain order".
  • "This is for someone that have the money to pay it".
  • "She needs a man that love her".
  • "It is crucial that he be honest".

I understand that the subjunctive in English should be used to express hypothetical scenarios, desires, necessities, or conditions. This aligns with its usage in Spanish, where the subjunctive mood often conveys uncertainty, wishfulness, or non-reality.

For all I have been able to read in manuals, it seems I must be correct, and also these examples are definitely needing the subjunctive mood in Spanish, so I take that as a secondary confirmation. However, as subjunctive mood is so uncommon it is hard to find specific examples of other texts already having used my specific words the way I use it. So it would be good if you confirmed to me that the usage so far aligns with the manual's advice -disregarding the fact that the indicative mood might be correct too, that is irrelevant, what matters is whether subjunctive could be accepted there or not-. (So I am not looking for the rules' text, I am looking for confirmation I understand it so far). Thanks.

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    It would be helpful if you could cite one or other of the manuals that you refer to and, ideally, include relevant passges that support your "secondary confirmation". In advance of a useful answer, I will just note that only the "crucial" sentences correctly use the (mandative) subjunctive in English.
    – Shoe
    Commented May 10 at 7:55
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    English speakers definitely wouldn't use the subjunctive in most of these cases. In particular you've misunderstood the "she needs" expression: it takes a noun, here modified by a subordinate clause with "that". But this is a complex question. I suggest you look at each of your examples and try and think why it might need a subjunctive in English. Or try and break the question down some other way: some of these issues are already covered in questions. As it is, you seem to be asking for every verb English might possibly the subjunctive with, which is too big a topic for a question.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 10 at 8:20
  • The subjunctive is not carried over into the relative clause: It is crucial that there BE (yes) someone that MAINTAIN (no) order.
    – TimR
    Commented May 12 at 21:20

2 Answers 2

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Your examples with It is crucial that… are the only ones that are correct English. And even for those, many speakers today would use the indicative.

We’re generally on thin ice when we try to apply one language’s grammar to another language.

By the way, prescriptive attempts to do just that are to blame for several so-called “rules” of English. Some nineteenth-century authors, feeling that Caesar’s tongue was a linguistic ideal, attempted to shoehorn English usage into the syntax of Latin. That’s the only reason one is sometimes forbidden such supposed crimes as splitting infinitives and using prepositions to end sentences with. One might as well insist that Dutch speakers adopt a particle to indicate changes in state because that’s how Mandarin Chinese does things.

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  • Might be correct English, but can't tell if it's a reasonable translation or not without knowing more context, because it-cleft usage has so many restrictions in English.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 13 at 0:26
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In this problem of translation, one criterion that is bound to dictate the final choice is the targeted audience; is the translation aimed at an American audience, an audience that one would suppose more cognizant with British standards, or neither, that is, an international audience to whom any particular variety of the language is as acceptable as any other? What can be read in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Quirk et al., 1985)—shown below—will help in making a decision. It can clearly be elicited from that that the Spanish language "que" criterion is not applicable to "that" in English.

(CoGEL § 3.59) The mandative subjunctive
[…]
The mandative subjunctive is more characteristic of AmE than of BrE, where it is formal and rather legalistic in style. There are indications, however, that it is reestablishing itself in BrE, probably as a result of AmE influence. In 16.32 we present the patterns of preference in BrE and in AmE regarding the choice between the mandative subjunctive, putative should, and the indicative, in sentences such as:

  • The employees have demanded that the manager resign. < esp AmE >
  • The employees have demanded that the manager should resign. < esp BrE >
  • The employees have demanded that the manager resigns. < esp BrE >

(CoGEL § 16.30) [B3] That-clause as object

[…]
That-clauses have one of three types of verb phrase, depending on the 'governing' verb in the matrix clause:

(A) indicative verb:

  • I suppose that he is coming alone.
  • I suppose that he will be coming alone.
  • I suppose that he will.come alone.
  • I suppose that he has come alone.

(B) putative should: I regret that he should be so stubborn.
(C) subjunctive verb: I request that she go alone.

(A) with the indicative is the most usual type. The putative should type […] (B) is more common in BrE than AmE, and (C) the mandative subjunctive […] is more common in AmE than in BrE. In BrE the subjunctive is felt to be formal, and is found typically in official styles of writing. Corresponding to these three constructions, it is necessary to recognize only two main categories of superordinate verbs. Type (i) may be called FACTUAL, since it goes with the indicative verb (A), and introduces what one might generally describe as factual or propositional information. Type (ii) may be described as SUASIVE; such verbs imply intentions to bring about some change in the future, whether or not these are verbally formulated as commands, suggestions, etc. Suasive verbs can be followed in the that- clause by all three constructions (A-C), but the indicative (A) construction is restricted, and is not generally accepted in AmE. There are two minor categories, Type (iii) emotive verbs (cf 4.29, 10.23) and Type (id hypothesis verbs, which are dealt with in 16.33. These types are displayed in Fig 16.30:

(§ 16.32) Type (ii): Suasive verbs

These verbs can be followed by a that-clause either with putative should […] or with the mandative subjunctive. A third possibility, a that-clause with an indicative verb, is largely restricted to BrE:

  • People are demanding that she should leave the company. [1]
  • People are demanding that she leave the company. [1]
  • People are demanding that she leaves the company. < esp BrE > [1]

It is more difficult, in the case of suasive verbs, to make a subdivision between 'PUBLIC' and 'PRIVATE' verbs: for this reason, we present the verbs below in a single list. Nevertheless, generally it is useful to see a distinction between the 'public' verbs which describe indirect directives (such as request; […]), and the 'private' verbs which describe states of volition or desire, such as intend:

agree demand intend recommend
allow desire move request
arrange determine ordain require
ask enjoin order resolve
beg ensure pledge rule
command entreat pray stipulate
concede grant prefer suggest
decide insist pronounce urge
decree instruct propose vote

[…] The choice between the three constructions in the that-clause in [1] above varies between AmE and BrE. […] It will be noted that the noun phrase + infinitive construction […] is a common alternative to the that-clause for suasive verbs:

  • They intended the news to be suppressed.
  • They intended that the news (should) be suppressed. < more formal >
  • It is known by anyone that have ever done it. (factual verb, indicative only)
  • She seeks a guardian that protect her always. (factual verb, indicative only)
  • It is crucial that there be someone that maintain order. ("To be crucial" can be considered assimilable to a suasive verb, therefore the mandative subjunctive is correct.)
  • This is for someone that have the money to pay it. (factual verb, indicative only)
  • She needs a man that love her. (factual verb, indicative only)
  • It is crucial that he be honest. (as above, mandative subjunctive correct)

Here is further defining of "suasive".

(Oxford Reference) suasive suasive verbs
A verb having the meaning of ‘persuade’, often followed by a that-clause.

"To be crucial" is clearly a verbal expression that aims at persuading.

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  • 'It is crucial that' ... is possibly introducing a factual scenario (It is crucial to life on Earth that the Sun doesn't go nova) or possibly modal (giving a personal assessment of importance) ('It is crucial that she doesn't meet him before she has seen the police'). 'It is crucial that he be honest' doesn't even require that he hear this pronouncement. Suasive verbs are persuade, insist, demand, encourage etc. I'd say CoGEL need another category for eg 'It is preferable that he be seen to comply.' Commented May 10 at 16:32
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    @EdwinAshworth I think it is not necessary that the persuasion be directed at the person implied in the terms of the utterance; persuasion has to be evident from the point of view of the interlocutor. // There is not a too formal definition in their characterization of suasive verbs, which they hardly delineate by saying that " such verbs imply intentions to bring about some change in the future, whether or not these are verbally formulated as commands, suggestions, etc.". So, in view of the Oxford Reference definition, I have an impression that something is missing.
    – LPH
    Commented May 10 at 17:18
  • I can't access Beth Levin's monumental work on verbs, but I believe she included material on suasive verbs. She would doubtless have given a precise definition (if not a unique one). Commented May 10 at 18:28
  • +1 for your remarks on suasion. What matters is that the speaker is asserting that something is important. Whether it is or isn't important isn't important. It's important that he meet me at the station. I've lost my wallet and have no way to pay for a cab.
    – TimR
    Commented May 12 at 21:38
  • It is unfortunate that you included the two it-clefts in this analysis. I'm pretty sure their that clauses aren't objects. And these clefts have restrictions which probably don't correspond to those in Spanish.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 12 at 23:56

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