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The first sentence in "Blake" in The Sacred Wood by T. S. Eliot is

If one follow Blake’s mind through the several stages of his poetic development it is impossible to regard him as a naïf, a wild man, a wild pet for the supercultivated.

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Why did he use "follow", but not "follows"? Because this book has been reprinted for several times, the usage of "follow" here is not likely to be a typo.

EDIT: In Selected Essays, 1917-1932, Eliot changed "follow" to "follows".

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  • Either follow was an irregular verb back then or it's a mistake. I'm going for miftake. Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 10:36
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    I think it's a rather odd use of a subjunctive-type verb after if, and deliberate. That doesn't make it right, though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 10:58
  • Although there is a big difference between if one follow and if one follows, but the former is still in wide use. google.com/…
    – Noah
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 11:13
  • Ain't it possible that "follow" was used because "Blake's mind" was alternatively used for "Blake's thoughts"(plural)?
    – Fr0zenFyr
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 17:38
  • @Fr0zenFyr: So the verb takes the number of its object? That's rather more unlikely than the subjunctive.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 6:33

1 Answer 1

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I believe this to be a pedantic application of the subjunctive mood following if.

If in the quote introduces something which Eliot
- wants to happen
- hopes will happen or
- imagines happening
and Eliot has used the subjunctive form of follow.

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  • Coming after an if, wouldn't the subjunctive be a past subjunctive followed? Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 13:37
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    The form of the present and past subjunctive is the same for every verb except to be. See the reference.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 13:39
  • It should be a present subjunctive anyway, because the verb in the main clause is "is". I can't imagine using "follow" with "was" here, although I suppose it might have once been correct. Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 13:54
  • @Andrew Leach ~ I did look at that, but it is contradicted by this reference that gives 'if I owned' as a past subjunctive, and this one that gives 'worked' as a past subjunctive. Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 14:09
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    @Roaring Fish: There seems to be little point in speaking of past subjunctive forms when they are indistinguishable from past tense forms. That's what Bas Aarts thinks, anyway, in his Oxford Modern English Grammar: amazon.com/Oxford-Modern-English-Grammar-Aarts/dp/0199533199/… Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 14:43

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