I'm not sure I understand what establishes a mood. Does a sentence have to establish a mood at the begining or can a mood be established in a clause at the end?

And, that's if he could get elected after 35% of Americans turned out in opposition to both parties and a new popular movement was seeded.


And, that's if he could get elected after 35% of Americans turned out in opposition to both parties and a new popular movement were seeded.

In both of these we're talking about a scenario that doesn't exist. The top one clearly sounds more right to me.

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    Do you mean ". . .turned out to be in opposition . . .*? – bib Oct 16 '12 at 18:23
  • Nope. I meant what I wrote. They are in opposition. In electoral parlance, to turn out in opposition means to show up at the polls. – Evan Carroll Oct 16 '12 at 18:24
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    But you wrote "turned out to in opposition". – bib Oct 16 '12 at 18:27

The word mood in this sense is a grammatical term which refers to the form of the verb: it is not a property of the sentence.

One of the traditional moods is called subjunctive: it is moribund in English, and not used at all by some people.

One of its uses is to mark irrealis conditionals, that is to say "if" clauses where the speaker is not suggesting that the condition might actually be true, but talking about what would happen if it were true. (That "were" is a subjunctive: it's hard to talk about irrealis conditionals without using it).

Your example is irrealis - you're not saying that it has happened, or wondering whether it has happened, you're talking about a possible scenario. In that context, those speakers who use the subjunctive would say "were", and those who don't would say "was".

  • Why do you say the subjunctive is moribund in English? – bib Oct 16 '12 at 18:24
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    because if the subjunctive mood was not moribund, more people would object to the formulation of this sentence. :) – kmote Oct 16 '12 at 18:49
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    +1 for suggesting were. But I wish you were more insistent. – bib Oct 16 '12 at 19:09
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    I think the question here is more about the mood governed by after than it is about the mood governed by if. See my answer. – tchrist Oct 16 '12 at 21:25
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    @tchrist: yes, I agree. My answer is a good answer to a different question. Serves me right for not reading carefully enough. – Colin Fine Oct 16 '12 at 21:51

The question is whether the subjunctive carries forward into subordinate clauses that are governed by a completely different subordinate conjunction.. In English, it generally does not.

Let's take your initial fragment:

  • And, that's if he could get elected after 35% of Americans turned out in opposition to both parties and a new popular movement was seeded.

And rewrite it into something easier to analyse. Here is the simple version:

  • If he were elected, then he would collect.

That part, I trust, is not suspect; this sort of if construction triggers the past subjunctive was > were in the if part.

The problem is when you branch off a new clause subordinate to something that's already in the subjunctive. Do you keep the mood, or reassess, perhaps according to which conjunction you use?

This leaves these two possibilities:

  1. If he were elected after a new movement was seeded, then he would collect a bountiful harvest.
  2. If he were elected after a new movement were seeded, then he would collect a bountiful harvest.

It may be that both are acceptable, with the second being more hypothetical.

Here is a bit of evidence that the fancier were-following-after construct does exist in the wild.

  • Whereas a spin-1 object returns to its initial configuration after it is rotated a single time, a spin -1⁄2 particle would do so only after it were rotated twice. [citation]

I dunno. To me it sounds extremely legalistic to use the subjunctive after after. Mind you, it did used to happen. Here is Sir Thomas More:

  • But still for any power that reason hath to perceive the cause, she shall judge it impossible after she prove it true but if she believe her eye better than her wit. [citation]

Although that is the present subjunctive, like "till death do us part", which we really don't use for those sorts of clauses, so the full example doesn't apply to the question of past subjunctive being asked here. But you can see what I mean by how old-fashioned it sounds. Here is a source from the 17th century that uses

  • That if it were lawful to keep a right heir from his kingdom, in respect of conscience, it was as lawful to remove him after he were established. [citation]

Jumping forward a couple of centuries, here's Jane Austen:

  • But she would not make up her fire; that would seem cowardly, as if she wished for the protection of light after she were in bed. [citation]

So ok, you can do it if you want. I don't think most people do so, though.

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    +1. By the way, a rule that governs the propagation of a mood from a matrix clause to a subordinate clause is known as a sequence of moods rule. English has a fairly complicated sequence of tenses rule, but our sequence of moods rule is generally just "don't bother". (See e.g. Fowler.) – ruakh Oct 16 '12 at 21:33

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