The Active Subjunctive

by William Harris
(the text is published with the permission of the author)


From here on, I will use the traditional term Subjunctive, although I would prefer to call it a Conditional as used in most modern foreign languages. I want to impress on your mind the sense of these new forms rather than their formal traditional title. When I say Conditional, I am calling forth all the associations that go with unreality, possibility, potentiality, in the English words "may" and "might" and "could be" and " if it were...". These are in a different world from the world of fact, where things "are", where "is" can be counted upon to "be", where facts are facts when you get down to brass tacks.

In short the Indicative is the world of Western Civilization and American practical hardheaded ability to take the world as fact. In contradistinction, what we are going to discuss is the shadowy world of the unknown, the unreal and the un-factual.

It feels good to take a positive, factual view of the world, but no one can go very far into living without observing that there are various levels of reliability and truthfulness. On a scale of one to ten I could outline the following:

       1       2       5       6       7       8       9       0

Engl.=
       is
              perhaps
                      maybe
                             just possibly
                                     might be
                                            might possibly be
                                                   could  possibly be
Put this scale into Latin terms and you get this series:
        indicative
        fortasse + Indicative
        Pres. condit.   
        Impf. condit.
        (Perf. condit.)
        off scale--- Plup. condit.
Greek has a parallel set of non-real situations, outlined thus:
Greek indic.    Greek subjunctive       Greek Optative
In English we do really have the nuances I am talking about, but we have to express them by conglomerates of words, that is they are not old, basic forms in the language, but necessities of the situation. In Latin they are built in, as in many languages, and form a more conspicuous part of the mental attitudes of the speakers toward "fact".

Let us get the forms out on screen, so we have something finite to talk about.
 

The Present Subjunctive

        I               II              III             IV
Sg.     amem            moneam          ducam           audiam
        ames             mones          ducas           audias
        amet            moneat          ducat           audiat
Pl.     amemus          moneamus        ducamus         audiamus
        ametis          moneatis        ducatis         audiatis
        ament           moneant         ducant          audiant
The pattern of the forms is not immediately apparent, but perhaps we can simplify it thus:

In general the sign of the -present conditional is the vowel -a- where you would not normally have it.

In Class III the vowel -a- is right after the root, in Classes II and IV it is added to the root vowel.

But in Class I, which always has a root ending in the vowel -a- already, the vowel is changed to -e-. to show a difference. Thus:

        I            II          III          IV 
        -e-          e-a-        -a-          -i-a-
Perhaps the most basic way of recognizing a present Conditional is noting that it looks like a regular indicative present, but something went wrong with the last vowel ----a rule of thumb to be used only in cases of desperation--- but it works.
 

The Imperfect Subjunctive

The Imperfect is easier to recognize:

Add to the infinitive the personal endings, and you get:

        I               II              III             IV
Sg.     amarem          monerem         ducerem         audirem
        amares          moneres         duceres         audires
        amaret          moneret         duceret         audiret

Pl.     amaremus        moneremus       duceremus       audiremus
        amaretis        moneretis       duceretis       audiretis
        amarent         monerent        ducerent        audirent
This is possibly the easiest tense to grasp in the Latin verbal system, one rule for all classes and no variations.

Note: There is no Future Subjunctive or Future Perfect Subjunctive, for a perfectly logical reason: The idea of the Future is part of a quasi-real set of parameters (Past Present Future), whereas the basic idea of the Subjunctive is vested in "Un-reality". In the realm of the Future the idea of Subjunctivity or un-reality simply does not fit!
 

The Perfect Subjunctive

        I               II              III             IV
Sg.     amaverim        monuerim        duxerim         audiverim
        amaveris        monueris        duxeris         audiveris
        amaverit        monuerit        duxerit         audiverit

Pl.     amaverimus      monuerimus      duxerimus       audiverimus
        amaveritis      monueritis      duxeritis       audiveritis
        amaverint       monuerint       duxerint        audiverint
Compare this group with the Future Perfect Indicative...where most of the forms are identical! Since the Future Perfect Act. Ind. is not used a great deal, confusion will be rare.
 

The Pluperfect Subjunctive

Sg.     I               II              III             IV
        amavissem       monuissem       duxussem        audivissem
        amavisses       monuisses       duxisses        audivisses
        amavisset       monuisset       duxisset        audivisset

Pl.     amavissemus     monuissemus     duxissemus      audivissemus
        amavissetis     monuissetis     duxissetis      audivissetis
        amavissent      monuissent      duxissent       audivissent
This Pluperfect Subjunctive is used very often, in fact is has a special meaning in conditions, which we rightly (if somewhat cumbersomely) call the Contrary-To-Fact-Condition. We will discuss this later under Syntax.


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