A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Killing the Mood

Everybody who's taken a foreign language has encountered the dread subjunctive mood. We anglophones can pretty much dodge it -- we get tripped up by it only in forms of the verb to be. I learned the rule as "condition contrary to fact" -- you write, "If I were king" instead of "If I was king," unless at one time in your past you really ruled the land. As Jan Freeman observes, “ 'I drove fast' and 'If I drove fast' use the same verb, and we have no trouble telling indicative from subjunctive." But as Jan shows in her latest column, it's not always easy to decide whether you want to write "was" or "were." And then she goes on to spread the good news -- it really, really doesn't matter which you write. Or at least it won't for much longer. The subjunctive is on its way out, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. (Now if they'd only get rid of "whom," I'd be happy.)