What is subjunctive?

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Woods
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What is subjunctive?

Postby Woods » 2020-11-15, 9:36

Can someone come up with a good definition of what a "subjunctive" mood actually is?

I found several different definitions so far, including:

"Subjunctive is the term given to special verb forms or markers that obligatorily occur in certain types of subordinate clause" (Bybee & al. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense Aspect and Modality in the Languages of the World, as quoted by Jouko Lindstedt, Mood in Bulgarian and Macedonian (University of Helsinki)

"The subjunctive is (...) a feature of the utterance that indicates the speaker's attitude toward it." (Wikipedia)


I'm trying to figure out two things:

1. How to explain to my student what the French subjunctive is (I usually tell him "you use this when you want to convey your personal opinion or a certain possibility or with some constructions that require it" - but this is not good enough because then it gets confused with the conditional.

2. Whether I should call the following forms in Bulgarian subjunctive, potential or something else:

Искам да направя. (I want to do.)
Мога да отида. (I can go.)
Трябва да се подпише. (He/she must sign.)

With those, the conjugated verb actually takes a special form (направя, отида, подпише). It is neither an infinitive (there are no infinitives in Bulgarian) nor the conjugated indicative form. It agrees with number and person. It could be called potential since none of those actions has actually happened. Maybe it could be called subjunctive depending on the definition.

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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby Dormouse559 » 2020-11-15, 16:56

Woods wrote:1. How to explain to my student what the French subjunctive is (I usually tell him "you use this when you want to convey your personal opinion or a certain possibility or with some constructions that require it" - but this is not good enough because then it gets confused with the conditional.

There isn't a pithy single sentence that exactly describes only the French subjunctive. Generally, the French subjunctive is used, mainly in subordinate clauses, to express an event that is uncertain or has not happened yet, or alternatively, an event that has happened with emphasis on a person's subjective experience of it. Occasionally, the conditional mood can fit some of this description, but unlike the subjunctive, it is very common to encounter the conditional in independent clauses. Whether the subjunctive is an option at all largely depends on the phrase that introduces a subordinate clause, and the restrictions can feel arbitrary. (Why does croire "believe" only trigger the subjunctive when it's negated or appears in certain questions?) So a broad definition might be helpful for mnemonic purposes, but in the end, one simply memorizes which phrases allow the subjunctive, which require it and which forbid it.
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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby linguoboy » 2020-11-15, 17:49

Woods wrote:Can someone come up with a good definition of what a "subjunctive" mood actually is?

I found several different definitions so far, including:

"Subjunctive is the term given to special verb forms or markers that obligatorily occur in certain types of subordinate clause" (Bybee & al. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense Aspect and Modality in the Languages of the World, as quoted by Jouko Lindstedt, Mood in Bulgarian and Macedonian (University of Helsinki)

"The subjunctive is (...) a feature of the utterance that indicates the speaker's attitude toward it." (Wikipedia)

These two definitions aren't actually incompatible. Subjunctive forms do obligatorily occur in certain types of subordinate clauses. Depending on the language, the speaker may have the option of using a non-subjunctive form to express a different attitude toward the information conveyed.

Fundamentally, the problem here is expecting to find a single cross-linguistic definition which applies to all verb forms commonly called "subjunctive". You won't. Many languages have a set of verb forms that are similar enough in their usage to those forms called "subjunctive" in Latin that people feel comfortable using the same term to describe them. But the usage is never exactly the same (not even between different varieties of the "same language"), to the point where sometimes the name simply gets in the way. If, for instance, you try to use a "subjunctive" form everywhere in French that you would use it in Spanish, you will often end up using the wrong form. As Dormouse says, it's probably better just to memorise the contexts where it's commonly used in French.

Woods wrote:2. Whether I should call the following forms in Bulgarian subjunctive, potential or something else:

Искам да направя. (I want to do.)
Мога да отида. (I can go.)
Трябва да се подпише. (He/she must sign.)

With those, the conjugated verb actually takes a special form (направя, отида, подпише). It is neither an infinitive (there are no infinitives in Bulgarian) nor the conjugated indicative form. It agrees within number and person.

Could you explain? Everything I can find about the grammar of Bulgarian says that these forms are, in fact, exactly identical to the indicative forms. (What is the first-person singular present indicative form of the verb направя if not, well, направя?) The only difference between the "indicative" and the "subjunctive" here seems to be the choice of complementiser: да vs че.

Woods wrote:It could be called potential since none of those actions has actually happened. Maybe it could be called subjunctive depending on the definition.

I mean, sure, you could call it that. It might be a little confusing, since "subjunctive" appears to be the established term for this construction in English-language discussions of Bulgarian grammar. But some linguists (e.g. Geoff Pullum) insist on the name "irrealis" for what is commonly called the "subjunctive" in English because they find it more accurate. Ultimately, it makes no real difference: what you have is a form (optional in English, required in Bulgarian) that is used in some clauses and not others according to some arbitrary criteria that a learner of the language just has to memorise.
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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby Saim » 2020-11-16, 7:18

Linguoboy wrote:Could you explain? Everything I can find about the grammar of Bulgarian says that these forms are, in fact, exactly identical to the indicative forms. (What is the first-person singular present indicative form of the verb направя if not, well, направя?) The only difference between the "indicative" and the "subjunctive" here seems to be the choice of complementiser: да vs че.


You're right, it is the same as the indicative form. This "subjunctive" is only differentiated from the indicative in the verb to be: аз съм [I am] (or in a subordinate clause: той каза, че съм [he said that I am]) vs. трябва да бъда [I need to be].

Now, it is true that the present indicative forms of perfective verbs like направя are more common in periphrastic constructions, including ones introduced by да. This is different from the North Slavic languages, because there the present forms of perfective verbs generally have a future meaning and more often introduce independent clauses. In the South Slavic languages they can't really stand alone in the same way. Maybe that's the root of the confusion.

In Serbian (which has pretty much the same system, although it doesn't differntiate да and че) some grammarians analyse this as two separate verbs, though: jesam and biti. The only evidence of this that I can think of is what happens in front of the verb morati (must): mora da bude (it needs to be) vs. mora da je (it must be, in the sense of high probability).

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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby Woods » 2020-11-16, 14:02

Dormouse559 wrote:Generally, the French subjunctive is used, mainly in subordinate clauses, to express an event that is uncertain or has not happened yet, or alternatively, an event that has happened with emphasis on a person's subjective experience of it.

I like this definition, thanks!


linguoboy wrote:Could you explain? Everything I can find about the grammar of Bulgarian says that these forms are, in fact, exactly identical to the indicative forms. (What is the first-person singular present indicative form of the verb направя if not, well, направя?)

да направя (subjunctive/potential) - правя (indicative)
да отида (subjunctive/potential) - отивам (indicative)
да се подпише (subjunctive/potential) - подписва се (indicative)


linguoboy wrote: "subjunctive" appears to be the established term for this construction in English-language discussions of Bulgarian grammar.

Is it? The thing is, I have never found a good concise grammar of the Bulgarian language in English to use as reference. Any recommendations?


Saim wrote:You're right, it is the same as the indicative form.

This is wrong.


Saim wrote:This "subjunctive" is only differentiated from the indicative in the verb to be: аз съм [I am] (or in a subordinate clause: той каза, че съм [he said that I am]) vs. трябва да бъда [I need to be].

Nope. Now that you're making me thing about it, there are some verbs where the two forms are identical:

Oбичаме родината си (ind.) - We love our country.
Tрябва да обичаме родината си (subj.) - We must love our country.

Играе футбол (ind.) - He's playing football. (socker - is it understood right by Americans if I call it football?)
Иска да играе футбол (subj.) - He wants to play football. (socker)


But with most verbs I can think of, there is a separate subjunctive form:

Трябва да тръгна преди 8 сутринта (subj.) (I must get going before 8am.)
Тръгвам преди да е станало 8 (ind.) (I am going now before the clock the clock hits 8!)


Try to give some other examples - I am pretty sure that the majority of verbs has different subjunctive forms. (linguoboy, has or have or doesn't matter? :D)

Actually, how much Bulgarian do you know? And how does this work in Serbian?


@all so far:

So we agree that subjunctive is the best way to call it?

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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby linguoboy » 2020-11-16, 15:03

Woods wrote:
linguoboy wrote:Could you explain? Everything I can find about the grammar of Bulgarian says that these forms are, in fact, exactly identical to the indicative forms. (What is the first-person singular present indicative form of the verb направя if not, well, направя?)

да направя (subjunctive/potential) - правя (indicative)
да отида (subjunctive/potential) - отивам (indicative)
да се подпише (subjunctive/potential) - подписва се (indicative)

This just confirms what Saim said: all the forms you label as "subjunctive/potential" are just present indicative perfectives. So the difference is not one of mood but of aspect.

Woods wrote:Actually, how much Bulgarian do you know? And how does this work in Serbian?

Do you know much about the imperfective/perfective distinction in other Slavic languages?

Woods wrote:So we agree that subjunctive is the best way to call it?

I would call it an "subjunctive construction", but the verb itself is a simple indicative form.
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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby Woods » 2020-11-17, 13:54

linguoboy wrote:
Woods wrote:
linguoboy wrote:Could you explain? Everything I can find about the grammar of Bulgarian says that these forms are, in fact, exactly identical to the indicative forms. (What is the first-person singular present indicative form of the verb направя if not, well, направя?)

да направя (subjunctive/potential) - правя (indicative)
да отида (subjunctive/potential) - отивам (indicative)
да се подпише (subjunctive/potential) - подписва се (indicative)

This just confirms what Saim said: all the forms you label as "subjunctive/potential" are just present indicative perfectives. So the difference is not one of mood but of aspect.

I just read a little bit about aspect in Wikipedia and it explains that it is "a grammatical category that expresses how an action, event, or state, denoted by a verb, extends over time."

This doesn't describe what these forms are.

They could be infinitives if they were not different for each person.

"Да направя, да отида, да се подпише, да тръгна, да играе, да обичаме" do not tell us anything about how the action unfolds in time, they only denote potentiality or personal appreciation.

linguoboy wrote:
Woods wrote:Actually, how much Bulgarian do you know? And how does this work in Serbian?

Do you know much about the imperfective/perfective distinction in other Slavic languages?

This was a question for Saim actually.

If I know how it works in other Slavic languages - the only thing that I am aware of is that the forms we use to make perfect in Bulgarian are simple imperfect past in Russian. Actually one thing is slightly confusing for me - when we talk of perfect vs. imperfect, are we talking about the difference of aspect in meaning or of the actual constructions (the way they're built)? Or is it all mixed up depending on the language?

Imperfect in French - starts before and continues while and after another action takes place. The other action is expressed by using a "composite past," which looks like English or Bulgarian perfect. So there's no present perfect (in meaning - good that we call the correspondent of the English present perfect in structure "composite past" so that we don't get totally confused.)

Pluperfect in French - kind of like past perfect in English.

"Аз съм бил" in Bulgarian - same as in English (I've been), plus optionally a second meaning that I don't remember or somebody else said so but I disagree. "Аз бях бил" - pluperfect (witnessed by me), or "бил съм бил" - plupluperfect, which makes the pluperfect unwitnessed but keeps the same position in time. Or should we call both pluperfect because they denote the same position in time and explain that the doubling of the auxiliary verb changes evidentiality?

I'm not sure what Russian "я был" is then - just simple past, even though they use the same forms which we use after an auxiliary verb to make perfect and they don't have our past simple forms? Is there aspect in Russian? Or in other Slavic languages?

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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby Saim » 2020-11-17, 15:19

Woods wrote:да направя (subjunctive/potential) - правя (indicative)
да отида (subjunctive/potential) - отивам (indicative)
да се подпише (subjunctive/potential) - подписва се (indicative)


How is this not primarily a difference of aspect? да can as far as I tell occur alongside imperfective verbs as well.

Some examples from Google:
Как да се науча бързо да правя сайтове на html?
Нямам намерение да отивам в ЦСКА, това са спекулации
Защо е важно да се подписва картината?

The perfective forms can also occur without да, e.g. ще направя.

Трябва да тръгна преди 8 сутринта (subj.) (I must get going before 8am.)
Тръгвам преди да е станало 8 (ind.) (I am going now before the clock the clock hits 8!)


Counterexample: Баща ми не искаше да тръгвам по неговия път.

Actually, how much Bulgarian do you know? And how does this work in Serbian?


I wouldn't really claim to speak Bulgarian, most of my knowledge is passive.

In Serbian almost all of your sentences would be exactly the same according to aspect:

Oбичаме (impf.) родината си
Volimo (impf.) svoju otadžbinu

Tрябва да обичаме (impf.) родината си
Treba da volimo (impf.) svoju otadžbinu

Играе (impf.) футбол
Igra (impf.) fudbal

Иска да играе (impf.) футбол
Želi da igra (impf.) fudbal

Трябва да тръгна (pf.) преди 8 сутринта
Treba da krenem (pf.) pre 8 ujutru.

Тръгвам (impf.) преди да е станало 8
This is the only one I had trouble translating. I guess it could be something like e, sad će 8, odlazim (impf.) or maybe odlazim (impf.) pre nego što bude 8 but I find the example kind of contrived. I would probably still say treba da krenem (pf.) pre osam, tako da odlazim (impf.) sada or skoro je osam sati, moram da idem (impf.)/krenem(pf.).

are we talking about the difference of aspect in meaning or of the actual constructions (the way they're built)


Aspect in Slavic is an element of the lexicon. Verbs are either inherently perfective (свършен) or inherently imperfective (несвършен). It's not like the distinction between the preterite (habló, il parla) and imperfect tenses (hablaba, il parlait) in the Romance languages.
I'm not sure what Russian "я был" is then - just simple past, even though they use the same forms which we use after an auxiliary verb to make perfect and they don't have our past simple forms? Is there aspect in Russian? Or in other Slavic languages?


The North Slavic languages don't really have various past tense constructions. я был is just past. However, the verb быть is inherently imperfective (несвършен).

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Re: What is subjunctive?

Postby linguoboy » 2020-11-17, 17:36

Woods wrote:If I know how it works in other Slavic languages - the only thing that I am aware of is that the forms we use to make perfect in Bulgarian are simple imperfect past in Russian. Actually one thing is slightly confusing for me - when we talk of perfect vs. imperfect, are we talking about the difference of aspect in meaning or of the actual constructions (the way they're built)? Or is it all mixed up depending on the language?

First of all, perfect ≠ perfective and imperfect ≠ imperfective. These are different aspectual pairs. English, for instance, has perfect aspect but no perfective; for most Slavic languages, it's the other way around.

Second, yeah, it's kind of mixed up according to language. Some languages (e.g. Latin) have a synthetic perfect, whereas most modern European languages use an analytic construction. Chinese uses a postverbal particle -了 to mark perfective aspect whereas in the Slavic languages--as Saim just pointed out--it's lexical, with various prefixes and suffixes used to derive perfective verbs from imperfectives and vice-versa.
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