[DWJ] A grammar realization - Where are we from?

Colin Fine colin at kindness.demon.co.uk
Fri Apr 13 06:09:53 EDT 2007


Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) wrote:
> Charlie asked:
>
>   
>> Hmm. Is 'mote it be' an example of the hortatory subjunctive? Always
>> wanted to meet one.
>>     
>
> I'm not sure whether "mote" is a subjunctive.  "Be" in that phrase is an
> infinitive, stripped of its (spurious) "to" by the modal verb "mote".  I
> would incline away from the hypothesis, the hortatory meaning supplied
> by the modal verb rather than by the subjunctive, but a philologist
> might disagree.
>
>   
I would strongly agree.
"Subjunctive", which is vestigial in English, is a property of 
constructions not verb-forms like Latin or French (there is not one 
single verb form in modern English which is exclusively subjunctive, it 
is only in context that a verb can  be seen to be subjunctive).
In most registers of English the meaning elsewhere conveyed by 
subjunctive constructions is expressed by modal auxiliaries such as 
'may' and 'would'. You could I suppose call such constructions 
'subjunctive' for semantic reasons, but I don't think anything would be 
gained. I can certainly see no reason for regarding the auxiliary itself 
as subjunctive.

> "So be it" is definitely a hortatory subjunctive, as are the first few
> main verbs in the Lord's prayer:  "Hallowed _be_ thy name, thy kingdom
> _come_, thy will _be_ done".
>
>   
Indeed.
Colin



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