Quick Question about the British Use of the Subjunctive Mood.

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by appleguy123, Jun 30, 2010.

  1. appleguy123 macrumors 603

    appleguy123

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    #1
    I can't really sleep today, so I am reading the British versions of the Harry Potter books. Some of the grammar seems different from our American copies, especially the subjunctive mood. It's continually written like "If Harry was more brave..."
    In proper(meaning mostly avoided by people of my age :) ) American English we would say were, and it is written like that in our Harry Potter books. Is was the proper subjunctive verb in British English or is the Author making a mistake?
    Thanks for answering this completely un-mac related question.
     
  2. AAPLaday Guest

    AAPLaday

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    #2
    I think was is the correct one to go with. For instance i know that if i was talking about myself, I would use was and not were. Such as the example, i was reading last night, and not, i were reading last night.

    That line from the Potter book sounds wrong to me if you say 'If Harry were more brave. But i have heard English people use were incorrectly most times too.
     
  3. appleguy123 thread starter macrumors 603

    appleguy123

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    #3
    I was reading last night is correct.
    If I were reading all of last night, I would be tired. We Americans (or ones that use the subjunctive correctly) wouldn't say was there. Would you hear any British people say were there?
     
  4. AAPLaday Guest

    AAPLaday

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    #4
    Hmm now im confusing myself.:confused: haha

    Edit. Were is definitely correct for talking about a group of people, such as they were
     
  5. appleguy123 thread starter macrumors 603

    appleguy123

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    #5
    Yes, I am referring to clauses using "if" or "as though". Not general indicative sentences.
     
  6. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #6
    I found this page, which was useful. In short, the British do use the subjunctive mood less frequently than Americans, but the were/was rule is a bit fallen by the wayside everywhere. One can use either, and picking one is probably one of those things that trendy modern anarcho-linguists will decry as prescriptivist, so instead of "were" or "was" you should say "tap-dancing cow" and then triumphantly exclaim you are driving the evolution of a living language.

    Apart from that, I have always mourned a bit the stillborn English subjunctive. Even to the extent we use it, scarcely anyone understands it, and it is rarely taught simply because no less than half of any class will find it just baffling. Nevertheless, its absence gives me some small sympathy for the idea that what we are able to express constrains what we are able to think, and to that end I think it important the English subjunctive be preserved for future generations.
     
  7. yojitani macrumors 68000

    yojitani

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    #7
    I was educated in Britain (which isn't saying a lot really) and to my knowledge "were" is correct here. In fact, I thought that 'was' is an American thing along with finishing sentences with 'at' ("where are my keys at?"). It is an odd thing.

    BTW @Gelfin "anarcho-linguists" :rolleyes:.That's such an unfair characterization.
     
  8. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #8
    I stand by my slander. ;)
     
  9. jdavtz macrumors 6502a

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    #9
    "If Harry were more brave..." is correct use of the subjunctive, but in speech lots of British people would say (incorrectly) "If Harry was more brave..."

    It's the same situation as that "If I were a boy" song (were, not was, is correct).

    If you flip the sentence around to make, "Were Harry more brave, he would jump" (or whatever) it becomes more clear that "Was Harry more brave, he would jump" is nonsensical. (Is that a word?)

    Even when I use the subjunctive "were" correctly in dictated letters, I find secretaries "correcting" it to "was".

    DOI: I'm British, I've never read Harry Potter, and wouldn't have had a clue what the subjunctive mood was if I hadn't started learning Spanish 18 months ago.
     
  10. appleguy123 thread starter macrumors 603

    appleguy123

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    #10
    You and I are a lot alike. I, too, learned the subjunctive mood from Spanish, but I started 2 years ago(My Spanish teacher has to take it slow because in the States Spanish is required and everyone gets mad at learning it, except for me) So I'd say that I have around 18 of material in.
    People are always correcting me (in speech not writing) in my proper use of the subjunctive, it bothers me a lot. Like for example "If she were then she would be bigger". They always think that it is was.
    Extension to the question: Is the following the subjunctive in English, or is it an oddly phrased command: be he dead or live, bring him in to law enforcement.
     
  11. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #11
    Well, it is a dependent adverbial clause in the subjunctive mood followed by an independent clause that is a command, but not an especially oddly phrased one.
     
  12. millar876 macrumors 6502a

    millar876

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    #12
    All fair and valed points about the sujestive thingey, but remember, the harry potter books were written for primary school kids (grade school) and therefor uses a more simplistic vocabulery. And why should an author who's native language is British English (the version of English which started in English, and is therefor where the language derives it's name) be fully fluent in the idiosyncracies of the myriad variations in use arround the world. It was probably a room of plebe at the US publishers office that performed the localisation anyway.
     
  13. appleguy123 thread starter macrumors 603

    appleguy123

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    #13
    I don't think that using proper grammar would produce an adverse effect on primary school kids. Since we have decided that "were" is the correct usage in British English, why was the book not edited?
    Also the vocabulary in this book would be more for middle scoolers (sycophantic, serendipitous, et cetera...)
     
  14. Gelfin macrumors 68020

    Gelfin

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    #14
    The subjunctive mood is emphatically not an American idiosyncrasy, any more than is the letter R an American invention simply because we pronounce them and RP speakers do not. The English did too, once, as they still do use the subjunctive, just not as frequently, if the link I posted earlier is to be believed.

    It should be pointed out that of course the British variant was the original, so it might simply be that this is something Rowling personally does not know, and which her English editor did not think important enough to correct, but which the American localizer(s) fixed up since they were in there switching around a bunch of minor word choices anyway.
     

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