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A tricky question of subjunctive mood or not.

 
 
coreenm
 
Reply Thu 16 May, 2013 04:44 pm
I'm quite familiar with the rules surrounding subjunctive mood and how to write such sentences properly. But I'm struggling with the decision of whether or not this particular sentence really requires the subjunctive mood in the second half.

Here is the sentence: He could get dismissed if anyone finds out, but it’s <not as if there were> anything illegal about his actions. (brackets just to highlight the area in question)

What makes me doubt the application of subjunctive mood in this case is the addition of "not" before the coordinating conjunction "as if." This phrasing (not my own, BTW) is rather convoluted, but is essentially stating the fact that the subject's actions are not illegal (which is true, not a case of wishful thinking). The second half of the sentence could be changed, without altering the basic meaning, to: "but his actions aren't really illegal." When recast in this phrasing, it's clearly NOT subjunctive. Hence my wavering on the issue.

Opinions?

Who thinks that the second half of the sentence should be subjunctive?: He could get dismissed if anyone finds out, but it’s <not as if there were> anything illegal about his actions.

Who thinks it should not be subjunctive?: He could get dismissed if anyone finds out, but it’s <not as if there was> anything illegal about his actions.
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Type: Question • Score: 1 • Views: 1,439 • Replies: 6
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 May, 2013 11:48 pm
@coreenm,
IMO
The first version should stand because it captures the posible state of mind of the subject contemplating the legality of his actions. The second does not give that nuance and therefore performs a different semantic function.

Your dilemma comes from the contrived juxtaposition of two versions which only become equivalent divorced from the the rest of the temporal flow of the narrative. However, you as author must be the final arbiter of your intentions. In general your question is related to those views of grammar (syntax and semantics) which transcend the single sentence as the unit of analysis.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 May, 2013 12:12 am
@coreenm,
This applies to the actual author if not you.
coreenm
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 May, 2013 08:58 am
@fresco,
You come at the question from an excellent perspective. Thank you for the well-thought out reply! It's true that I am not the author. I am the proof reader, and this particular issue was flagged for my review by the first two content editors of the manuscript; both felt that "were" did not sound right to them. But I'm not so interested in what "sounds" right. It's left to me to make the final decision about whether or not it IS right. And to me, that decision hinges on whether or not the construction can truly be considered to be in the subjunctive mood.

To your point, the scene as a whole (versus the single sentence) does add more clarity. This character actually IS certain that his actions are not illegal. There is nothing in the paragraph or scene that would imply he is doubtful of this. He's a police officer and knows the law well. So, in context, when I read the scene I get the idea that he is thinking to himself: "Well, this might be against procedure and might get me in trouble with my department, maybe even fired, but I know they can't actually take legal action against me or arrest me--so screw them. I'm going to do what I think is right."
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 May, 2013 09:26 am
@coreenm,
Okay. Perhaps the word "contemplating" should not be applied to "his actions" per se, but rather to "a hypothetical scenario of dismissal due to actual illegality".

It occurs to me that "proof readers" may have similar problems to "translaters" in which stylistic considerations and intent can override traditional grammatical rules.
coreenm
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 May, 2013 11:44 am
@fresco,
Yes, I do often feel that tension. I have to maintain the proper balance between upholding grammatical rules and honoring the author's intent. There are times when the two conflict, and the solution isn't as simple as deferring to the author's wishes. When doing freelance proof reading for self-published authors, sure. They can certainly have the final say. But in other cases, my position as the head of the proof reading/copy editing department requires me to balance the needs of the publisher with the desires of the author. The publisher has a strong need for consistency. What can be seen as artistic license on the part of an author can also be viewed as an error or lack of attention to detail on the part of the publishing house. Too many cases of that and the publisher develops a reputation for turning out poor quality products (a simplistic scenario I'm painting here, but it does play out this way in reality sometimes, as the "grammar nazis" can be ruthless and unyielding at times). Hence, I become a judge over when to "permit" the breaking of a grammatical rule and when to insist that it be adhered to. Not always a fun position! And when I decide that ignoring the particular rule is the best decision, I have to make sure I can defend the choice to the folks who actually pay me. (And that's not usually the author!)
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JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 May, 2013 02:39 pm
@coreenm,
"subjunctive mood" doesn't always mean that something is counterfactual/ irrealis.

Quote:
Here is the sentence: He could get dismissed if anyone finds out, but it’s <not as if there were> anything illegal about his actions. (brackets just to highlight the area in question)

What makes me doubt the application of subjunctive mood in this case is the addition of "not" before the coordinating conjunction "as if." This phrasing (not my own, BTW) is rather convoluted, but is essentially stating the fact that the subject's actions are not illegal (which is true, not a case of wishful thinking). The second half of the sentence could be changed, without altering the basic meaning, to: "but his actions aren't really illegal." When recast in this phrasing, it's clearly NOT subjunctive. Hence my wavering on the issue.


From the context, I'd say that this is a hypercorrection.

He could get dismissed if anyone finds out, but it’s <not as if there is/was> anything illegal about his actions.

With 'is' the focus is on the ongoing state of his action npt being illegal. With 'was' the focus is on what he did.


"If I was you" is also the subjunctive MOOD. It's just not the subjunctive FORM.



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