Talking in tongues

(K. Brent Tomer),

A RECENT Johnson column looked at the English past subjunctive. The present subjunctive gets much less attention. This appears after verbs like “insist” and “request”, and can be spotted when a first- or third-person singular verb, which normally has an “s” on the end (he brings), loses that “s”: for example, “We ask that each student bring a lunch.”

This subjunctive is becoming rarer. The above would be more idiomatic as “We ask each student to bring a lunch.” Most of the subjunctives that people actually know and use, in fact, are frozen phrases—many of them religious. “Peace be with you.” “The Lord be with you.” “God save the Queen.” “God bless America.” “God shed His grace on thee.” “Until death do us part.” (In the plain indicative, these would be “Peace is with you,” “God saves the Queen” and so on.) These forms cannot be repurposed in modern English: you can’t say to your neighbour “a good barbecue be with you,” or “your daughter win the race tomorrow.”

Something about religious worship seems to call for special, often archaic language. Islam and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Talking in tongues

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