AEE 1759: The Subjunctive Tense in English


In today’s episode, Lindsay and Aubrey talk about the subjunctive grammar form in English.

Native English speakers often make mistakes using the subjunctive in informal speech.

Listen in on their discussion as they share tips on how to use it correctly in a formal business English conversation scenario.

Importance of Grammar

Today’s episode is inspired by a listener’s question who wants to bring their grammar to a higher level.

Lindsay reminds the listeners that the All Ears English motto is “Connection NOT Perfection,” but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore grammar.

Aubrey agrees with this and mentions that grammar matters especially in the business world.

In today’s episode, Lindsay and Aubrey talk about the subjunctive and how important it is to use it correctly.

Aubrey shares that native English speakers often use subjunctives incorrectly especially in informal conversations.

This is okay, but in work, you may sound unprofessional if you don’t speak with correct grammar.

Here is a question from Asako who is asking for help from the All Ears English team on proper grammar:

My name is Asako.

I wanted to brush up my grammar use and I came across these 2 sentences.

1) She acts as if she were the queen.

2) She talks to me as if she is my mother.

I perfectly understand why the first sentence uses past tense “were”, as in “she were the queen.”

But I don’t get why the second sentence uses present tense “is”, as in “she is my mother.”

It would be really helpful if you could help me on this.

Thank you in advance!!

Tricky Grammar Mistakes

Aubrey says that the second sentence mentioned by Asako in her question is grammatically incorrect.

The sentence is a subjunctive mood so the correct way is: “She talks to me as if she were my mother.”

You may hear native English speakers say it incorrectly because it is tricky to notice when to use the subjunctive mood.

It is accepted in an informal setting.

You can actually read it in some books, hear it in songs, on TV, movies and so much English media out there.

Aubrey shares that she was watching TV and she heard someone say “It would hurt even more if it was you.”

The correct way to say it is “It would hurt even more if it were you.”

She also points out some words in songs like:

  • If I was a rich girl… (Gwen Stefani)
  • If I was the man… (Taylor Swift)
  • I’m down on bended knees… (Boyz 2 Men)

In these songs, they used the subjunctive wrong intentionally.

Lindsay shares that she made mistakes in using subjunctives before.

When she became an English teacher, she learned and corrected her grammar mistakes.

Sign Post Words: If and Wish

Aubrey encourages listeners to go back to All Ears English Episode 1062: We Recommend That You Try This Advanced Grammar Point.

In this episode, Lindsay and Michelle give you a deep dive on how to use the subjunctive when you’re talking about urgency, power, importance or suggestion.

There are signpost words that you can take note of that will remind you how to properly use the subjunctive mood.

Example of signpost words are “if” and “wish.”

Conversations regarding hypotheticals would often use the words “if” and “wish.”

When you see these words, they require the subjunctive mood.

Example:

Wrong: “If I was a millionaire, I would…”

Correct: “If I were a millionaire, I would…”

It may sound right to use “was” but the correct word to use is “were.”

Aubrey shares that if she were a millionaire, she would donate some of her money to those who really need it.

Lindsay says that if she were a millionaire she would travel.

During the Covid pandemic there were a lot of places she didn’t get to see.

Example:

Wrong: “If he was being honest, he wouldn’t say that.”

Correct: “If he were being honest, he wouldn’t say that.”

Wrong: “I wish I was not addicted to sugar.”

Correct: “I wish I were not addicted to sugar.”

Sign words remind you to use a particular tense.

This makes you listen better.

When you hear someone use the subjunctive wrong, you don’t need to correct them.

They may be doing it intentionally, or they may not know they’re using it wrong because majority says it that way.

Even in a business setting, you don’t need to correct them.

What is important is you know the difference and you should continue to be aware of your grammar.

Roleplay

In this roleplay, Lindsay and Aubrey are working together and they are debriefing after a presentation.

Aubrey: That went really well but let’s talk about any improvements we can implement next time. What would you do differently?

Lindsay: I wish I were able to speak more clearly to market value.

Aubrey: Oh yeah! That could help us clarify the message.

Lindsay: I think so. If I were able to provide an analysis with visuals that might make a difference.

Aubrey: What if we were more informed about our competitor’s angle?

Lindsay: Yeah, that would help us know what direction to take.

Lindsay says this sounds like a high-level business meeting.

Aubrey agrees and says that it would sound off if you switched to informal subjunctive in such a formal setting.

You should notice that they used the subjunctive mood properly in this conversation.

Takeaway

The key takeaway in today’s episode is to know when you are making a mistake and learn from that.

Native English speakers may not always communicate with correct grammar and that’s okay.

If you are in an informal setting and talking to friends, family or colleagues, it’s alright to loosen up and speak freely without worrying too much about your grammar.

But if you are at work, it’s best to know how to communicate well to show your professionalism.

In this episode, since Lindsay and Aubrey shared how to properly use subjunctives, you are now equipped to elevate the way you communicate.

You don’t have to be correct all the time with your grammar, and you shouldn’t correct someone else once you notice a mistake.

But it is good to be equipped with the knowledge of proper grammar when the occasion or situation asks for it.

What phrases do you hear all the time that you feel are grammatically incorrect?

Share it in the comments below and let’s see if other listeners have heard it that way as well.



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