Over the past 12 years that I’ve been writing this column, I called attention every now and then to the recurrent misuse of the English subjunctive by some news reporters and editors and even by some academics. In the beginning, though, I’d let pass most of the faulty sentence constructions without comment on the presumption that they were just proofreading or typographical errors.
Such was my initial presumption when I came across this paraphrase in a news report of an academic official’s statement in 2012 about the Reproductive Health Bill (underscoring mine): “The university will also support the Church in its future actions should the bill is passed by Congress, Villarin said.” Of course, that sentence should be using “be” instead of “is” as linking verb because it is in the subjunctive mood: “The university will also support the Church in its future actions should the bill be passed by Congress, Villarin said.” But then, who wouldn’t think that a proofreader had only mistakenly replaced the correct “be” in the original manuscript with the wrong “is”?
On the other hand, this commentary by a newspaper columnist in 2009 left little doubt in my mind that he wasn’t conversant with the subjunctive: “It is not enough that Mr. Romano minimizes his public appearances or goes on self-exile.” With two verbs in a row rendered in the incorrect subjunctive form, it was highly unlikely that time that a proofreading or typographical error was the culpit. A subjunctive-savvy writer would have dropped the “-s” or “-es” from the tail end of the verbs to come up with this correct construction: “It is not enough that Mr. Romano minimize his public appearances or go on self-exile.” (Note: I used the fictitious name “Romano” here to avoid giving political color to this discussion.)
It’s been quite a while since I last came across a faulty subjunctive construction in the print media, so I began to entertain the notion that perhaps media people had finally licked their problem with subjunctives for good. Imagine my disappointment then when I came across this faulty subjunctive construction a few days ago in—of all places—the editorial of a leading national broadsheet: “It is imperative that the Philippine government takes a firm stand against this violation of an international safety agreement and local laws.”
Like the two verbs in that commentary by a newspaper columnist, the verb “takes” in that subjunctive sentence should have dropped the “-s” at its tail end: “It is imperative that the Philippine government take a firm stand against this violation of an international safety agreement and local laws.”
That the faulty subjunctive sentence above—and I don’t think that what we have here is a proofreading or typographical fluke—should crop up in the editorial of a leading broadsheet should be a wake-up call for media people to really get to know how to construct subjunctive sentences properly. It would really be a shame if an otherwise well-written reportage or well-argued commentary is needlessly undermined by faulty subjunctive construction.
To help solve this problem, I have decided to do a full-dress review of the subjunctive mood in English starting next week. The emphasis will be on how it differs from the indicative and imperative moods. The review will then take up the admittedly baffling behaviors of verbs in the subjunctive third-person singular, which drop the expected “-s” (or “-es”) at their tail end and take their base form instead; the deviant behavior of “be” in the present-tense subjunctive, in which “be” doesn’t change form at all no matter what person or number is taken by the subject; and the maverick behavior of “be” in subjunctive “if”-clauses, where that verb sticks to the past-tense subjunctive form “were” all throughout regardless of the person and number of its subject.
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