Ignoring the minor detail that they aren’t words, but semi-English local dialect, “shoulda” “coulda” “woulda” perfectly describe the essence of the rapidly disappearing subjunctive tense — or as some modern grammarians prefer it, mood.

All romance languages lavishly employ the subjunctive because it lets a verb indicate more than action (as verbs are wont to do). It includes a feeling about those actions. Longing, perhaps. Uncertainty. Hesitancy. Hope. Sometimes, it indicates “a hypothetical state or a state contrary to reality, such as a wish, a desire, or an imaginary situation.”  Which is something difficult to express if you don’t have a grip on the subjunctive thing.

Consider that a generous use of the subjunctive mood or tense can raise literature from the mundane to an art form. Wait, isn’t it supposed to be an art form?

In one of my favorite songs, Rod Stewart says “You are my heart, you are my soul. You’ll be my breath should I grow old.”

I love that he used the subjunctive to indicate the uncertainty of the future, that maybe he would not grow old, but IF he does, she will be his breath. That’s elegant. That’s subjunctive. He does not say “when I grow old.” He could have, but specifically chose to leave the matter up in the air, quivering with possibility. Saying so much by choosing this word rather than the other one.


We’ve been dumping parts of speech for a while now. Americans seem to feel we need to just get on with it. Stupid grammar, it just gets in the way of spitting out what you mean. We don’t need no stinkin’ adverbs. Or tenses, for that matter. Let’s just go with the present and ignore everything else. Simple, direct. Eventually, we can eliminate pronouns, too.

If you ever listen to sports on TV or radio, you’ll notice they speak their own version of English. Adverbs have been banished. These highly paid professionals don’t know an adverb from their elbow, a noun from nose hair, or a complete sentence from a sandwich. Nor do they care.

I am in a subjunctive mood today. Wistfully contemplating the resurgence of language as art.

33 thoughts on “IN A SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD

  1. It irks me daily to hear the pros abuse and hack away at English grammar. Shoulda known that coulda happened. I’m in a sujunbctively (I love adverbs/even when I make them up) shoulda, coulda mood. 🙂


    • The poetry of language is becoming an endangered species. Genuinely good writing has always been rare — that’s how come you and I were able to earn a living, after all. If everyone could write, who would need writers or editors? But now, you hear the people on television talking like illiterate thugs. I keep thinking they can’t possible be as ignorant as they sound … but I think many of them really ARE.


  2. Grammar was literally beat into us at the Parochial school I attended in my childhood. Diagramming sentences was my favorite! I wonder if they still teach that in schools these days? Heck, some schools don’t stress spelling due to spell-checkers in all the damn electronic gadgets. Great post!


    • We didn’t get formal grammar in school, not until high school. Mine was the generation when they were experimenting to see if we would learn grammar by reading and listening (that was also when most people spoke pretty well). I did learn it, mostly, but there are big holes in my knowledge. However, I do know what’s right from hearing it spoken.

      I’ve been a working writer my whole life. I always felt grammar-deficient, but these days, I could be Mr. Strunk himself. Sheesh.


  3. I agree, and cheer you on. Recently @ sing on a building near me read “Open during remodel.” No ING in sight. Oh well, so it goes. Anyone remember when maternity clothes Hid the belly? Or for that matter people of a certain size wore clothing designed to deemphasize bulges? Not complaining, just remarking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know people make typos. I certainly do and I give a lot of latitude to making mistakes. But the death of any attempt at grammar — or punctuation — is a real loss, and no accident. It also makes it hard to figure out what someone is trying to say.

      And I too deplore the loss of loose clothing, not only for maternity, but in general. If you don’t have a body beautiful … why do you want to show off every lump and bulge? Garry deplores the horrible styles of men’s clothing, so I guess this is the style. As long as no one makes ME wear it 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • You were not born to English as a language. Even with that, you write and speak MUCH better than most native born Americans. Not mastering the subjunctive … that’s the advanced seminar and many people don’t understand it’s use with far less of an excuse. You speak and write amazingly well. What’s THEIR excuse?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh, I was wrong. I learned that most subjunctive sentences start with “if”. Ooops my bad. Besides that…you just made my day. Thank you for the compliment.

        It’s actually very interesting. Everybody who learns a language and wants to use it, will try to use the language the same way the mother tongue is used in ones head. The language one is thinking, doesn’t change until many years of daily usage. So there is a silent, hidden translation going on in ones head. The original thoughts, the words, the grammar and the style one thinks, has to be rolled over into the new language. What is unsatisfying if you can’t use all the words you normally would use.

        If one speaks a lousy English and learns Spanish…guess what? Right, the Spanish will be lousy too. 🙂

        I guess what I am trying to say -since you asked (you did right?)- I am not too bad in my mother tongue either. 🙂


  4. I had a 5th grade English teacher who drilled grammar into us, and I cringe today at its loss. What happened to the word proven? It drives me crazy when I read “has proved” I was taught proven is the correct use of the word (irregular past participle?)


  5. I agree Marilyn language seems irrelevant in terms of correct grammar. I cringe when certain sports commentators are on my TV……I don’t know why someone hasn’t told them about the Queen’s English. But I think as you say they don’t care or correctness just floats over their heads.


      • Well in the end I suppose as long as we’re understood, all of this is Ok. Language is not static but is ever changing, however gradual. That being said, I’m still often shocked at the lack of its proper use by those who should know better.

        A friend of mine decided that she would no longer use capital letters in her emails.., as some kind of protest. I called it laziness and pointed out how difficult it was to read her communications, when the end, or beginning, of a sentence was lost. I was constantly back tracking to try and reconstruct her meaning or thought.

        I guess my protests made an impression as she doesn’t do that anymore. So, ditto, call me old fashion as I too am in favor of grammar.., not to mention, clarity.

        Liked by 1 person

          • There is a solution that’s been reverberating in my head for some time now, especially since we all discovered “email.” How about we learn to write letters.., I mean hand written, actual pen and paper stamped and mailed letters. We could use the skills we all, well most of us anyway, learned back in grade school. No spell check, no grammar correct. no nothin’ just a brain, a heart and some mechanical skills. Elegant indeed.


            • Hand cramps. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10. I don’t have a handwriting. Before anyone else was typing letters, I was. The instant email because universal, I was a convert. To me, the message is not the linked to the medium. English is a language. It can be used like a rapier or a bludgeon. I know it’s considered very uncool, but since I don’t demand anyone else use grammar, punctuation, or complete sentences, it shouldn’t bother anyone that I do. Since I was a writer/editor for many long years, I figure I can kvetch about grammar and usage once in a while. I earned my stripes.

              Complete sentences are too old school even for me. But an elegant turn of phrase is art. I’m always tickled when I manage to say something especially well. Garry is like that too. We were ENGLISH MAJORS. Well, Drama/English, anyway. Same church, different pew.


      • Rant

        I tend to write in the ‘dialect” of the person writing to me: non caps for some, more or less strict punctuation and form for others.

        “And then I go, you know, uh, NO SHIT SHERLOCK, and HE goes, Yeah, really…” (and I go, you know, ballistic.)

        Or the use of the phrase “so fun”. “oh that was so fun…” Excuse me? What happened to ‘much” in there? Or simply use the word ‘such” instead of “so– It used to be a mostly midwest phrase, but now I see it spreading. Fun is one of those words that requires a quantity with it. Not sure how else to express that. but ” so fun” is just wrong.

        “well u NO what I ment… who cares?” I do. And its me you’re writing to.

        And the one I have never understood, on a message board far away and now mercifully defunct, one of the women who posted there regularly decided that since we were typing our responses and not ‘saying’ we should reflect that in our speech patterns. “Why are you typing to me?” “I don’t like the way you keyboarded that”. sigh.

        I think this playing with the language reached a new level when advertisers started using the word “office” as a descriptive verb rather than a noun. “The next time you office–” makes no sense unless you fill in the missing words. You might as well say, “the next time you baby” or “when you school next week”


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