The Corner

The Subjunctive

One of the first things I was ever told by a hardened professional

journalist was: “Say anything you like, insult anyone, mess up your facts,

broadcast lies and slander — nobody will bat an eyelid. But split a

popping infinitive and watch the angry mail come pouring in.”

I have found this to be true. Nothing stirs people up like fine points of

grammar, pronunciation, and usage. I am not much surprised to find,

therefore, that the section of this morning’s Diary generating the most

e-mail is the bit about the subjunctive.

Here’s one of my favorites so far: “Derb—As a lawyer, I use the

subjunctive frequently to show that an ‘if …, then’ condition is a

contrary to fact condition, thereby adding subtle support to my primary

position that the if clause is not true. Since many judges split

infinitives, I doubt that they actually pick up on the point. Most probably

think that I got the number of my verb wrong.”


The Latest