The magnificent English language — subjunctive version

… or the frustratingly-complicated English language, depending on your mood. Here’s the example: Discussing the minimum wage issue with some students, I found myself saying,

“With a minimum wage, employers will have to pay more than they would have had to have paid in a free market.”

Snip: “… they would have had to have …”

Imagine learning to say that comfortably, especially if you’re a non-native speaker.

I’m guessing that’s the subjunctive passive past-perfect? Linguistic precisionism from grammar experts welcome.

subjunctive-cartoon

5 thoughts on “The magnificent English language — subjunctive version

  • June 28, 2014 at 11:06 pm
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    That’s actually incorrect:
    It should be “than they would have to pay in a free market”

    It’s future subjunctive, not future past subjunctive.

    And as non-native English speaker, I have no problem with this at all.

    You should try the verb forms in French, German or Latin 😀

    The easiest one for verbs is Russian, but that one sucks because of the declinations.

  • June 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm
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    Either is correct. One can hypothesize a future present, and from that future present one can also imagine a past scenario.

  • June 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm
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    Don’t know if it’s true, but heard that English is an amalgam of three primary grammar systems from source languages, hence its notorious lack of consistency. An elderly German woman I know related that in the 50s she had traveled to England on a Viscount airplane, pronounced “Vie-count”. Later she roused chuckles from her hosts by informing them that she bought something in a “die-count” store.

  • July 22, 2014 at 6:48 pm
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    Ah ‘pro libertate’, you are showing your non – native roots. It should be ‘than they would have had to pay’. The expression ‘would have had’ is in the subjunctive because it’s a conditional clause. The infinitive ‘to pay’ does not change tense.

  • July 23, 2014 at 3:54 am
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    I sent a comment on my ‘smart’phone last night, but in case it did not get through I’ll comment, and elaborate further, here:

    Dear Pro libertate and Stephen Hicks: you are both barking up the wrong tree.

    “With a minimum wage, employers will have to pay more than they would have had to have paid in a free market.”

    This statement will of course be understood, but it is not really correct. We are dealing with a closed or impossible conditional statement: ie. we are imagining pay terms in a free market that does not exist. In this case, the correct expression is:

    ‘than they would have had to pay in a free market’

    You have extracted ‘they would have had to have’ from your statement to the student, but you have broken up the English incorrectly. The statement breaks down thus: ‘they would have had’ is subjunctive, because it’s in a conditional. ‘to pay’ is an infinitive and does not change its tense (‘to have paid’ = perfect infinitive).

    (If we were talking about a hypothetical conditional, in which scenario a free market may be an option in the present or the future, one would write:

    ‘With a minimum wage, employers will have to pay more than they would have to pay in a free market’

    Can you see the difference?)

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