2 grammar questions (subjunctive and gerunds(?))

I hate searching for grammar rules on the internet. You always get contradicting sources. I’m trying to parse the sentence “I wish I could show X to Y.” Is this present or past subjunctive? If it’s past, then is there any case where you don’t use the 3rd person singular simple past form of the verb after wish, other than the obvious “to be” case?

Relatedly, what’s the present subjunctive? Wiki says that regular verbs in the 3rd person singular present subjunctive conjugate like the 3rd person plural present indicative. I’m having trouble coming up with examples other than something like “I suggest he buy the moose before he eats it,” with “buy” being the verb that would be different were it not subjunctive.

My other question is in the sentence “He broke his arm falling from a tree,” what part of speech is “falling?” Is “falling from a tree” a noun clause, which would make “falling” a gerund, right? Or is it something else?

Test post. Not seeing this thread show up on the page after it looks posted to me. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Bump. Has anyone studied the subjunctive? It was quite some time ago for me… :frowning:

Traditional grammar would refer to that as “past subjunctive”. Which is ridiculous because, as you note, there is no grammatical distinction except for one measly word.

Modern analysis simply states that there is no such thing as past subjunctive in English. The exception of the one verb is called the “irrealis”. This exception is not deemed worthy of representing an entire mood in English, since it’s blindingly obvious that this mood no longer exists.

Your example uses what’s called “mandative” construction, which relates to commands. The subjunctive also appears in a number of set phrases, e.g. “So be it”. It can also be used with certain prepositions, sometimes favored in legal language, and in a select sort of conditional clauses: “whether it be day or night”. But except for the set phrases, it’s never mandatory to use the subjunctive. For more discussion of its peculiarities and potential confusions, check this fascinating Language Log post about Ray Charles and the subjunctive here.

There’s no grammatical distinction in English between a present participle and a gerund, so modern analysis uses the term “gerund-participle” to describe this word form in an effort to be inclusive. Clunky but precise is their motto. “Falling from a tree” is thus a gerund-participial clause.

Subjunctive is still used, sometimes, in the expression of wishes, like “I wish I were king.” But I admit I hear “I wish I was…” as often as not.

I’ve never heard of a gerund-participle. In the case of “the running man,” isn’t running being used as an adjective and therefore a participle? And in “I appreciate your taking the time to come,” isn’t that just a gerund?

I never studied these formally, so my perceptions of these might be wrong (or possibly just dated from reading about them in older texts).
Oh, and thanks for that article about Ray. That was a really good read :slight_smile:

I concur about the Ray Charles piece. Great read. I actually didn’t know that people were interpreting that line that way.

It is present subjunctive. “I wish I could have shown” would be past. Modals operate differently from verbs.

That’s basically it. I once had a problem with a math book published in England. Very simply, the copy editor was unfamiliar with the subjunctive and queried a score or more sentences of the form, “A necessary and sufficient condition that a category have limits is…”, the word “have” was systematically queried. Either England has lost this use of the subjunctive or the publisher had one incompetent copy editor (probably not the latter since s/he did a fine job otherwise. But to me that use of the subjunctive is obligatory.

It is a participle, modifying “He”. You could say, “Falling from a tree, he broke his arm”. Complicated phrases like that are not used in the middle of a clause usually. A gerund would be something like, “Falling from trees is dangerous.”

How did he want you to say it?

The only alternative phrasing I can think of is replacing “that a category have limits” with “for a category to have limits”. But that still uses “have.”

Apparently, British English uses the subjunctive a lot less often than American English. I assume Hari’s boss wanted the sentence to read “that a category has limits…”

There’s a distinction here that I didn’t quite make clear, which is leading to the confusion.

There are no inflectional markings in English that distinguish a “gerund” and a “present participle”. None at all. Looking at the word “running” by itself, out of context, there’s no way to tell whether it’s acting as an adjective or a noun or what. So linguists today refer to this form (based on the plain form of the verb: “run”) as the gerund-participle. This is similar to a noun in English that functions as a subject or a direct object. The word “wall” could be either. Again, there’s no way to tell what case the noun takes just by the word by itself. You need more information. But the fact is that a noun is a noun, regardless of how it’s being used in any particular situation.

What you’re trying to do is look at the particular function of a gerund-participle so that you can assign it a label based on that. This would be similar to deciding that a noun isn’t really a noun if it’s acting as the direct object. But that is not, in the view of current theories of grammar, a helpful way of distinguishing things. And it is also not helpful to distinguish between a “gerund” and a “participle” in the same way. So they label it a “gerund-participle”, and then they decide how the gerund-participle is functioning based on the given sentence.

Modern grammar changes a lot of these definitions from traditional grammar, but there’s always a good reason. Still, it’s hard for some people to let go of what they were originally taught, no matter how much more precise the newer terminology is. That’s why we’ve had people come in to this very thread with the traditional definitions, despite the fact that those definitions are no longer favored by the professionals.

Modern grammar changes a lot of these definitions from traditional grammar, but there’s always a good reason. Still, it’s hard for some people to let go of what they were originally taught, no matter how much more precise the newer terminology is. That’s why we’ve had people come in to this very thread with the traditional definitions, despite the fact that those definitions are no longer favored by the professionals.

I had no idea things had changed as much as all that. Do you have some sources where I can read some of this stuff? I’m always up for increasing my grammatical knowledge.

Kendall Jackson, the change in the rules seems to have the process take a worrisome extra step.

Let’s call my new vehicle a truck-car because we don’t know ahead of time when it’s going to be used for hauling home antiques and when it’s going to be used for taking kiddies to summer camp.

That just sounds like too much trouble.

I don’t think it’s all of the “professionals” yet who are going for this new twist. (Those tweedy n’er-do-wells!)*

The Concise Oxfor Companion to the English Language still gives this definition of GERUND:

*Ah, but Cambridge is another matter. For a brief look at the issue that is more interesting than it sounds, take a minute to check out this summary, “The Forms of Verbs,” by someone who is a self-described “flesh-eating dragon.”

(And how is Germaine?)

If you can get Harbrace to go along with it, I will give in.

You should see what qualifies as a “preposition” nowadays. It would blow your freakin mind.

The most complete reference I have is the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, of which Geoff Pullum is one of the primary editors. It was Geoff Pullum who wrote the piece on Ray Charles and the subjunctive that I cited above. But this is not a particularly useful book for learners. It’s nearly 2,000 pages long. It might be better for your purposes to get A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (same authors), which is an intro linguistics text based on their longer work. Added bonus: it’s also much cheaper.

It doesn’t seem like that much trouble to me.

The gerund-participle is the word form. Once it’s actually used in a sentence (that is, once we have the context), we can say that the function of the gerund-participle is a gerund. Or a participle. Or whatever. I don’t see that this is much trouble. We have no need to declare that a noun is a subject before we actually see the relevant sentence. We just call it a noun until we can be sure what kind of noun it is.

In some languages, we could rely on the plain word “gerund” or “participle” without the context, because they take different forms and can be easily distinguished one from the other. But in English, that’s not the case. They look exactly the same. But to be precise, it’s still nice to have a label to describe this word form (what it looks like) even without the benefit of context. But to call it a “gerund” before we know it’s actually a noun (or vice versa) would seem to imply that one function is more important than the other, which isn’t really true. There are two main functions, and they’re both important. So the decision was made to settle on the clunky combination. It’s not the cleanest term in the world, but this distinction between 1) the basic structure of a word and 2) how it’s actually used in any particular sentence is quite normal.

So: gerund-participle for the basic structure, with more labels added as needed. Really quite straightforward.