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January 23, 2008



If nothing else, the importance of using the subjunctive tense is illustrated.

Had Obama said "If I were ..." instead of "If I was ...", his quotation would be tamper resistant against everything but weapons-grade Dowdification.

Rick Ballard

Many heavy crack users turn to armed robbery in order to support their addiction...


hi, i'm bill clinton. i used to be president of the united states, now i'm a pimp for my wife.


Mr Ballard,
Actually the crack users are heroin users who were too whacked out on heroin to do anything but be whacked out.Crack gives them that get up and go that boosts them into the proper criminal fraternity,if they haven't smoked too much skunk and got the medication in the wrong order.
They also use heroin to come down from the effects of crack,so you can see life can be confusing.
Taking into account uppers,downers,horse pills and the veritable pharmacopeia churning around their systems anything can happen between hitting the kerb Glock in hand and trying to navigate the revolving door.Have some pity.

oOther Tom

Bumper, I think the subjunctive is a case, not a tense--and maybe it's even a "mood." (I once got published in National Review's "Notes & Asides" with a snarky piece admonishing some pedant who had got the whole idea of the subjunctive wrong, and although WFB printed my comment with approval, the editors changed my "case" to "mood." Go figure.)

I think I'll give Obama credit for an "implied subjunctive" here, since construing his use of "was" as anything other than a misstated subjunctive would make his statement pretty much meaningless.

Sometimes "if" is properly followed by "was," viz. when it is not used to raise a condition contrary to fact. "If I was going to be late for dinner, I would always call from the office to let her know." But that's not the subjunctive, and it's not the usage Obama had in mind.

Also, I hate his opponent, so for the time being he can do no wrong.

Other Tom

"If I were King, I'd have Hillary flogged." Now there's your subjunctive.


You know--it conduct like Bill's only increases *shudder* cynicism.


Reminds me of the old joke about the guy getting into a cab in Boston and asking "Where can I get scrod?" The cabbie replies "Brother, I've heard that question asked in every way imaginable, that's the first time anyone's asked me in the subjunctive pluperfect."


Clinton Incorporated


In 1992 Bill Clinton claimed we had the worst economy in 40 years. He said America has gone from first to 13th in the world in wages in the last 12 years. Personal income dropped while people have worked harder in the last 4 years. More people have filed bankruptcy than there had been jobs created.

All of that was either untrue or irrelevant, but it worked anyway. My point is that Bill Clinton can lie faster than most people can listen, much faster than anyone can correct his lies.

Before long Obama will have to resort to, "There you go again!"


PUK, thanks for the link. I think Obama should revive the old "Two for One" slogan against the Clintons this time around with something like "Who wants either one of them" . I am sure you could come up with something more catching, however.:)


Other Tom, subjunctive is definitely a mood--along with (in English) indicative, imperative and infinitive (some ancient languages like Greek and Sanskrit had an optative mood). The subjunctive can be defined as the "mood of doubtful assertion": there is always an element of uncertainty or indefiniteness when it's used. It's virtually extinct in English and often doesn't sound right anymore.

Quite frankly I don't know exactly how to categorize Obama's statement: I never paid attentin during English grammar classes. My feeling (!) is that technically it's a condition contrary to fact rather than a subjunctive. Under that assumption a more elegant way to put it would be: "If I had been arrested and my mug shot [was] shown on TV, you wouldn't be debating..." His use of "was" may not be incorrect, but it makes the nature of the construction a little less clear--or so it seems to me.

Other Tom

MikeS, it's worth taking a retrospective look at that "worst ecomony in 40 years." Here are the quarterly GDP growth figures for the two years leading up to the 1992 elction:

1991 01 -2.0249
1991 02 2.6217
1991 03 1.9445
1991 04 1.8895
1992 01 4.2079
1992 02 3.9133
1992 03 3.9825
1992 04 4.4807

In short, a contraction in the final quarter of 1991, followed by expansion thereafter, particularly including very robust expansion throughout 1992. But as the saying goes, a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can put its boots on. And if anyone has been more instinctively aware of that sad fact than Bill Clinton, I do not know who it might be.


LOL! Porchlight - thanks for the laugh!


I have been thinking about a race between Mitt and Hillary which looks like that might be our picks. Think about Mitt and his beloved wife Ann with their five boys who are delightful when interviewed and their eight grandchildren compared to Bill, Hill. and Chelsea who is not allowed to be interviewed. Quite a contrast. Hmmmm

Other Tom

Anduril, I used to know a bit of verse that went something like, "English has a subjunctive case, ba-da ba-da ba-da" (iambic pentameter, I think). I went looking for it on Google a couple of years back and found it as "English has a subjunctive mood, etc." and now I can't find it at all. Definitely obsolescent at the very least.


And come to think of it, where is McCain's family? Why don't we get a picture of that family. The only thing I can say about Cindy is she has a wardrobe to die for but whoop-de-do!


But as the saying goes, a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can put its boots on. And if anyone has been more instinctively aware of that sad fact than Bill Clinton, I do not know who it might be.
I agree Tom. I don't think it is just Bill Clinton, but some of the Democratic leadership, as well as MoveOn, DailyKos, the Soros affiliated orgs, and god knows who else.

These folks are becoming more and more effective at creating a Zeitgeist based on lies rather than facts.
Take the "Bush Lied" fairy tale. Millions of seemingly reasonable people actually believe that!


I agree wholeheartedly with BumperStickerist. In Obama's statement, I believe we have a present contrary to fact conditional where the subjunctive is appropriate. A good example of this is the formulation "If I were you, I would..." (Past contrary to fact would be "If I had remembered how to form contrary to fact conditionals in the ancient tongues, I would have mentioned it.")

As anduril notes, subjunctive is a mood. Dative, ablative, etc. are cases.


Now I remember why I hated English class.


And come to think of it, where is McCain's family? Why don't we get a picture of that family.
Hard to arrange a time for a family picture - father is on the campaign trail, son is in the Marines.

Ralph L

My 1941 Funk & Wagnalls calls it the subjunctive mode, but the terminology may have changed in 60 odd years. Obama should have used a more ecstatic mode of being.


I do not know how to use the habbo coins ; my friend tells me how to use.

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