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if there were one virtue I can claim

 
 
WBYeats
 
Reply Mon 6 May, 2013 11:04 pm
A sentence: If there were one virtue I can/could claim, it would be punctuality.

Since I have learned a lot from this forum, I hope to ask more question as an eager learner. For the above sentence, I think both are OK, but I hope native speakers can verify or refute my claim. COULD can be used because the user regards the act of CLAIMING as building on this hypothetical situation-there WERE; at the same time, CAN can be used because it is the simple present tense and the user regards what he can claim in the situation, if true, as what can always be claimed, so the present tense dovetails. Do you agree with my analysis?
 
WBYeats
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 May, 2013 09:27 am
@WBYeats,
Could anyone help me??
Setanta
 
  4  
Reply Tue 14 May, 2013 09:29 am
Based on the habits i picked up from French, i would write "If there were one virtue i could claim . . . " If i used can, i would write "If there is one virtue i can claim . . . "
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Tue 14 May, 2013 09:33 am
By the way, i'm not convinced that your analysis is necessary in the case of the use of "were." This is an example of the subjunctive case. The Wikipedia article on the subjunctive begins with:

Quote:
The subjunctive mood in English grammar includes particular verb forms that are used in certain clauses, chiefly dependent clauses, to express necessity, desire, purpose, suggestion and similar ideas, or a counterfactual condition.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Tue 14 May, 2013 09:34 am
Sorry . . . i should have included this link: Wikipedia's article on the subjunctive in English.
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 20 May, 2013 01:55 pm
@WBYeats,
Quote:
A sentence: If there were one virtue I can/could claim, it would be punctuality.

Since I have learned a lot from this forum, I hope to ask more questions as an eager learner. For the above sentence, I think both are OK, but I hope native speakers can verify or refute my claim. COULD can be used because the user regards the act of CLAIMING as building on this hypothetical situation-there WERE; at the same time, CAN can be used because it is the simple present tense and the user regards what he can claim in the situation, if true, as what can always be claimed, so the present tense dovetails. Do you agree with my analysis?


To reply to your final question - in a word, yes.

But considering that

If there was one virtue I can/could claim, it would be punctuality.

is as equally hypothetical as,

If there were one virtue I can/could claim, it would be punctuality.,

how would that affect your choice of CAN or COULD?
WBYeats
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 04:06 am
@JTT,
Q:how would that affect your choice of CAN or COULD?
A:I had the question because I thought consistency in English grammar is important, and this might forbid CAN, which sounds too 'present tense' to be used with WERE, which indicates a hypothetical situation, which traditionally requires the past.
JTT
 
  0  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 02:00 pm
@Setanta,
Quote:
Based on the habits i picked up from French, i would write "If there were one virtue i could claim . . . " If i used can, i would write "If there is one virtue i can claim . . . "


Finally, we learn the reason for your frequent hypercorrections, Set. It is the height of stupidity to think that the grammar rules of another language determine how English is used.

ESLs: please ignore this advice from Setanta as it is completely fatuous.
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  0  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 02:17 pm
@WBYeats,
Quote:
Q:how would that affect your choice of CAN or COULD?

A:I had the question because I thought consistency in English grammar is important, and this might forbid CAN, which sounds too 'present tense' to be used with WERE, which indicates a hypothetical situation, which traditionally requires the past.


If there were one virtue I can/could claim, it would be punctuality.

This isn't an irrealis hypothetical, WB, in the same sense as "If I were you, WB, ... .

The choice of 'were' here isn't absolute. Are you aware that 'was' can be used for counterfactuals/irrealis?

This sentence is the same as saying, "I don't want to seem like I'm bragging so I'll put it in doubtful terms that I think my best virtue is punctuality".

We use 'If + were' quite often to make soft suggestions, to give advice in a not too forward fashion --> "If you were to do it this way, it might be better".

English speakers never seek consistency over meaning. That sounds like advice coming from those that believe English has Tense Concord/Sequence of Tenses. It doesn't. We have to be able to say all things, to effect many nuances. If you believe that modal verbs have tense, you are, as an ESL, missing out on a lot of meaning.

False rules like this "modals have tense" do not affect English speakers because our internal grammars know what the real rules are.

CAN, as the historical present tense [no longer true] has kept it meaning as more REAL, more POINTED, more DIRECT than historical past tense [no longer true] COULD, which continues to be more INDIRECT, more ETHEREAL, more DEFERENTIAL, ... .
JTT
 
  0  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 02:29 pm
@JTT,
Here's a discussion on that very issue, WB.

A tricky question of subjunctive mood or not.

http://able2know.org/topic/214561-1
0 Replies
 
WBYeats
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 08:14 pm
@JTT,
Thank you~ JTT, you've given me so many good replies that I can't cope with them at one sitting in front of my laptop~

Q:Are you aware that 'was' can be used for counterfactuals/irrealis?
A:Yes, I am. In books, WERE is almost always the way to show a subjunctive mood, and, as far as I can tell, this is still prevalent in the US, but in the UK, people tend to use WAS where traditionally WERE is required.
farmerman
 
  2  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 08:15 pm
@WBYeats,
I think the word you are searching for is overly punctilious
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 08:49 pm
@WBYeats,
Quote:
A:Yes, I am. In books, WERE is almost always the way to show a subjunctive mood, and, as far as I can tell, this is still prevalent in the US, but in the UK, people tend to use WAS where traditionally WERE is required.


This is one prescription where there has been some success. But 'were' hasn't been required for centuries, except in more formal situations, as you have noted, eg books. The subjunctive is moribund in English. There used to be many more forms but these have been replaced.

Google exact phrase search English only pages - US region

"If I was you"
About 33,700,000 results

"If I were you"
About 8,030,000 results


There is a prescription that badly describes how the subjunctive works. If you want to hear it, ask Setanta.
======================

Google exact phrase search English only pages - UK region

"If I was you"
About 4,540,000 results

"If I were you"
About 902,000 results
WBYeats
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 May, 2013 06:14 am
@JTT,
After reading your reply several times, the word moribund rings in my mind-

The usual way to use IT'S TIME WE... is to use the subjunctive mood:

eg It's about time you cleaned your room!
eg It's time I fed the dog.

But sometimes I heard Americans use the original form of the verb; is it a new-trend usage?
JTT
 
  2  
Reply Thu 30 May, 2013 01:55 pm
@WBYeats,
Quote:
The usual way to use IT'S TIME WE... is to use the subjunctive mood:

eg It's about time you cleaned your room!
eg It's time I fed the dog.

But sometimes I heard Americans use the original form of the verb; is it a new-trend usage?


I'm not at all sure if using the past tense FORM is the "usual" way, WB. I'm also pretty sure that it is not a subjunctive FORM. Not sure whether it's the subjunctive mood.

Do you know how to do a Google Advance Search?
WBYeats
 
  2  
Reply Thu 30 May, 2013 07:27 pm
@JTT,
Q: Do you know how to do a Google Advance Search?
A: Yes, but the problem is, as my teacher a long time ago told me, there's no evidence that native speakers use those sentences; Asians can post on American websites, eg.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 May, 2013 07:31 pm
@WBYeats,
Quote:
A: Yes, but the problem is, as my teacher a long time ago told me, there's no evidence that native speakers use those sentences;


Why then, do you think that linguists make frequent use of Google to check frequency use of various English structures, WB? It has its limitations to be sure, but it is actually very valuable.

It's especially good for checking the validity of prescriptive rules. It's also good to illustrate that modal verbs are tenseless.
WBYeats
 
  1  
Reply Thu 30 May, 2013 09:18 pm
@JTT,
Q: Why then, do you think that linguists make frequent use of Google to check frequency use of various English structures?
A: I also noticed this thing while reading grammar books; I admit there's some reliability in google, but if my countrymen argue with me, I tend to use real examples to show a certain usage is OK.
0 Replies
 
 

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