Sunday, 31 August 2014

Justin and Jim - subjunctive failures!

Never let it be said that this blog doesn't span the Generation Gap.
Here are lines from the lyrics of two songs.

Justin Bieber (who?)
"If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go"

Jim Morrison (The Doors)
"You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn't get much higher

So, what do they have in common?
They are both glaring examples of where the lyricist/singer should have used the Subjunctive, in English!

"If I WERE your boyfriend..."
"If I WERE to say to you..."

It's hardly surprising that we English speakers have such a hard time with the Subjunctive in Spanish, when we don't even use it properly in English.

The problem is compounded, in Spanish, by the fact that there are situations where the word 'if' (si) is not followed by the Subjunctive, and others where it is.

Let's start with the case where it does not require the subjunctive.
It's all about probability and possibility (and even positivity)

In English 'IF this happens THAT happens' or 'IF this happens, THAT will happen'
There's no doubt about the outcome.

There's a fair likelihood that 'THIS' will occur and, if it does, 'THAT' will be the result.
There's none of the element of doubt which normally characterises the subjunctive.
You'll notice, also that, whether we're saying 'THAT happens' or 'THAT will happen', 'if THIS happens' is always in the present (indicative) tense.
So there's the easy one.
'Si' in present tense is not followed by Subjunctive.

'Si me dudas, te equivocaras'                'If you doubt me, you're mistaken'
'Si haces algo diferente lo haces mal'   'If you do something different, you're doing it wrong'

Note: the same holds true, even if you swap the clauses around and say 'THIS will happen, if THAT happens'

'Suenas raro si hablas como así'    'You sound odd, if you talk like that'

Now there's a clue to the next construction.
How about if we began our sentence with 'That WOULD happen'?
Anyone who's ever listened to Michel Thomas's Spanish CD lessons will immediately say 'Would? Wood? it's Conditional!'
So, this time the clause containing the oucome is in the Conditional Tense.

As my Profesora is constantly reminding me, if something 'WOULD' happen 'IF' something else 'WERE' to happen, we use the past Subjunctive.
It has to be the past, as we just said 'WERE' which, apart from being subjunctive, is also in the past tense.

Now, the full sentence 'If this WERE to happen, that WOULD happen'
Let's see the examples again.

'Si me dudaras, te equivocarías'      'If you were to doubt me, you would be mistaken'
'Si hicieras algo diferente, lo harías mal'
'If you were to do something different, you would do it wrong'
'Sonarías raro si hablaras como asI'  'You would sound odd, if you were to speak like that'

In this second construction, we have introduced the element of doubt or uncertainty, which ushers in the Subjunctive.
The phrase 'If you were to do that .  .' suggests that it is unlikely that you would do it but, if you did . . . . Subjunctive.

On to the third in the series.
This time were looking at things that you didn't actually do (but, IF you had done . . . . Subjunctive) Yet again there's the hint of improbability which is so closely associated with the Subjunctive.
Although this construction looks a little more complicated, it's only because it's longer.
It goes something like 'If you WERE TO HAVE done this, that WOULD HAVE happened'
So, in Spanglish 'If you HUBIERAS done this, that HABRÍA happened'

The examples again:
'Si me hubieras dudado, te habrías equivocado'
'If you had doubted me, you would have been wrong'

'Si hubieras hecho algo diferente, lo habrías hecho mal'
'If you had done something different, you would have done it wrong'

'Habrías sonido raro si hubieras hablado como así'
'You would have sounded odd, if you had spoken like that'

And that's it!
When to use the Subjunctive following 'si', and when not to.
There's a very informative page, in Spanish, at which covers the same topic, and gives some more examples.

Of course, typically in this Blog, there's always a little more to it.
There are a couple of phrases which include the word 'si', which also generate the Subjunctive, and these are 'y si' and 'como si'

Let's start with 'como si'.
The literal translation is 'as if' and, in English too, it generates the past Subjunctive.
'He talks to me AS IF he WERE the boss'
'Me habla como si FUERA el jefe'
That's really all there is to it - 'como si' followed by pasado de Subjuntivo.

The second construction 'y si' I know is used in Spain, but can't actually be certain that it's common in South America.
The literal translation is 'and if', but more implies 'how about . . . ' or 'how would it be if . . '

e.g. '¿Y si, nos encontremos a las ocho?'
'How about we meet up at eight o'clock?'

'¿Y si tomemos un taxi?'
'How would it be if we WERE to take a taxi?'

Again, this uses the past Subjunctive.

Well, sorry it been such a long time since the last posting.
I hope it's been worth the wait.
I've been a little busy concentrating on my own Spanish.
I've just finished reading 'Cien años de Soledad' by Gabriel Marcia Marquez.
I can definitely recommend it, although I can't pretend to understand all of the symbolism, it's a very readable novel.
I'm also still ploughing my way through the 1,000 words challenge, mentioned in a previous post, and I've also managed to complete 'Beneath a Steel Sky', the graphic adventure, in Spanish :)

¡Que disfrutes tu aprendizaje tanto como yo!