Subjunctive Expressions Set in External Examinations

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Subjunctives are said to be used to express situations that are neither real nor certain but just imagined. Some of them are moods of verbs in certain constructions.

It asserts that something is thought of, as being desirable or likely to happen. Consider them one after the other below:

As if or as though…

[As if or as though + were]

He behaves as if he were God.

ii   Bola reacted as though she were mad.

Examining the sentences above, ‘as if’ and ‘as though’ are used with the special verb were. The sentence (i) means ‘he is not God’. Also, the sentence (ii) means ‘she is not mad’.

Need BE…

[If need be]
  1. If need be, we can bring another car.
  2. We can visit you at home If need be.

The sentence (i) implies that If there is a need for another car, we can bring it, but the car has not been brought. Also, the sentence (ii) implies that if there is a need  to visit you at home we can, but we have not visited him/her

Participle BE

[Be + participle]

I move that the meeting be adjourned.

ii He suggests that the motion be raised.

The sentences (i) suggest that I move that the meeting should be adjourned, but it has not been adjourned. Furthermore, sentences(ii) suggest that the motion should be raised, but it has not been raised.

Wish… or Wished…

[Wish + were or wished had]
  1. I just wish I were the president of the country.
  2. He wished he had become a professor.

If you examine the sentences above, you can see that the past auxiliary (were) and (had) are used for the special (wish) and (wished) So, don’t say:

  • I just wish I was/am the president of the country.
  • He wished he has become a professor.
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Now, sentence (i) connotes that I wish to become the president of the country, but he was not the president of the country.

Also, sentence (ii) connotes that he wishes to become a professor, but he had not been a professor.

If Only…

[If Only + pronoun + past tense]
  1. If Only she played the music.
  2. If Only I passed the English Language.

If Only in the sentence (i) is followed by the pronoun ‘she’ and thereafter, is followed by the past tense ‘played’. The sentence means that ‘she did not play music’.

If Only in the sentence (ii) is followed by the pronoun ‘I’ and thereafter, is followed by the past tense ‘passed’. The sentence itself means ‘I did not pass the English Language’.

This rule is basic. So, it is ungrammatical to use present tense with if only as in:

I  * If Only she plays the music

ii * If Only I pass the English Language

 It is time…

[It is high/about time + pronoun +past tense]
  1. It is high time we stopped corruption in our nation.
  2.   It is about time you left for Lagos.

It is high time in the sentence (i) is followed by the pronoun ‘we’ and afterward, followed by the past tense ‘stopped’. The sentence implies that ‘they have not stopped corruption.

It is about time in the sentence (ii) is also followed by the ‘you’ and afterward, followed by the past tense ‘left’. The sentence itself implies that ‘he has not left for Lagos’.

As explained above it is grammatically wrong to replace the past tense with present tense or future tense while you are using the expression ‘It is time + pronoun’.

I  *  It is high time we stop/shall stop/should stop…’’

ii   *  It is about time you leave/shall leave/should leave…’’

I would rather…

[I would/I’d rather + pronoun +past tense]
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I would rather you finish the work on time.

I’d rather her go there in two hours.

I would rather the sentence (i) be followed by the pronoun ‘you’ and after that, followed by the past tense ‘finished’.

The sentence means that ‘he has not finished the work’ I’d rather in the sentence (ii) is followed by the pronoun ‘her’ and after that, followed by the past tense ‘went’. The sentence itself means that ‘she has not gone’

‘she is still at home

According to the subjunctive rule, I would rather not be used with present tense or future tense. Therefore, don’t say:

‘’I would rather you finish/shall finish/should finish….’’

  I’d rather her go/shall go/should go….’’

You had better…

[You had better + present tense]
  1. You had better leave that place.
  2.          You had better speak louder

You had better in the sentence (i) is followed by the present tense ‘’leave’’ and you had better in the sentence (ii) is also followed by the present tense ‘’speak…’’

The sentence (i) suggests that ‘he has not left the place. However, the sentence (ii) suggests also that ‘’she has not been speaking louder.’’

Important things to Note

It should be noted that you had better is not you better. It is wrong to remove ‘had/ from the expression. As a result of this, stop saying:

  1. * you better leave that place.
  2. you better speak louder.

Remember that You had better can be followed by the only present tense, not past tense as in:

i.*you had better leave the place.

ii.*you had better speak louder.

Also, it cannot be followed by ‘to-infinitive.’ Look at the examples:

  1. * you had better leave that place.
  2. *you had better speak louder.

However, if it is time and it is better to want to be used, then they can be used with ‘to-infinitive. ‘consider the examples below:

  1. It is high time to stop corruption in our nation.
  2. It is about time to leave for Lagos.
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But if the pronoun occurs immediately after the expression It is time, then the tense changes to the past form. Look at the examples of it is better below:

  1. It is better to leave that place.
  2. It is better to speak

However, had…

[however had + pronoun + verb]
  1. She didn’t pass however hard she studied.
  2. He couldn’t meet up however hard he tried

In the sentence (I), however, had is followed by the pronoun ‘she’ and thereafter, followed by the verb ‘studied’.

The sentence (i) implies that ‘she studied hard but she didn’t pass.’

Sentence (ii) also implies that ‘he tried hard but He couldn’t meet up.’ You should note that however hard is inseparable. For this reason, it is wrong to say:

i.*she didn’t pass however she studied hard.

ii.*he couldn’t meet up however he tried hard.

 

Author: Deola Adelakun

 

 

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