Subjunctivitis: Diagnosis and Treatment (Subjunctive of Will)

(I posted this one on the Novice Corner page but it takes too long to scroll down and find it.) 

So – the Latin subjunctive. Verbs tell you a lot, so get used to examining them asap. Let’s first review the moods we’ve covered so far.

Indicative mood

If you want to present the action or state as actually happening, you’ll use the indicative mood. Remember that the indicative is not always a guarantee of truthfulness: if I say “I ate my lunch today,” I’d be lying, although I am using the indicative form of the English verb. Things get even iffier when I use the future tense of the indicative: “I will eat my lunch later today.” I can’t be stating a fact about my eating – just that I do have the intent to do it soon. But again – I may be blowing smoke.

Imperative mood

That’s the one I use when I command you directly: “Look at your verbs first!” and “Always examine the structure of the whole before focusing on the details!” You comply, or else.

Of course, I can instead urge you to do what I want you to do: “You should be focusing on your verbs first,” or “You might want to focus on your verbs first.” I leave it to you tell me which works better (I know people who go ballistic when you tell them what they might want to do). These alternative phrasings in English give you some idea of what the Latin subjunctive is all about – softness and tact, in most cases.

Subjunctive mood: Independent Subjunctives

There are three main types of subjunctive, depending on the way the speaker presents the action as non-fact: will, wish and opinion as to possibility. Today I am focusing on the first type.

A. Subjunctive of will. The speaker presents the action as something that s/he wills to happen. S/he also has the authority to bring it about – in a smart way. The negation is always ne (but see A4 for possible substitutions). The tense of this subjunctive is present, except in prohibitions (cf. A4 below).

A1. Hortatory subjunctive: “Let ‘s do the laundry.”

This type routinely comes in the first person plural. The name comes from a verb you should know – hortor, hortatus sum, hortari 1. Using the hortatory subjunctive is a nifty way to make people do what you want them to do – rather than directly commanding people, you present the action as an attractive possibility that you and your pals can perform as a group.

Here are some Latin examples (I leave these particular translations to you):

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus. (Catullus V.1)
Ne difficilia optemus. (Cicero, Verr. 4.15)

A2. Jussive subjunctive 1: “Let him stew” and “The Raiders should fire John Fassel.”

Note that in this case, you are not talking directly to the person you want to do this or that activity/state (this can be a rather imperious way of ordering, but sometimes is just laying down the rules). The verb is in the third person.

Vilicus ne sit ambulator, sobrius sit semper. (Cato, in his Res Rustica 5.1: “A bailiff should not be a parader, he should always be sober.”)

A3. Jussive subjunctive 2: “You must be careful, my dear Tiro.”

Instead of using the imperative, which demands immediate compliance from your interlocutor, you use this very gentle 2d-person form of jussive subjunctive. You can also use it with ne as a negative alternative of command.

Cautus sis, mi Tiro. (Cicero, Ad Familiares 16.9.4; for translation, see above)
Ames parentem si aequus est; si aliter, feras. (Publilius Syrus – cf. Short Reading 9 on p. 137 in Learn To Read Latin)
…ne me incuses… (Vergil, Aeneid 12.146 – cf. Short Reading 13 on p. 138 of your textbook)

A4. If you want to issue a negative command – aka prohibition – use the 2d person of the perfect subjunctive: ne hoc feceris, ne cogitaveris.  It’s the equivalent of “don’t even think about it.”  Instead of ne, some people substitute negative words, like nihil and nemo. Here is an example of a negative command from Cicero:

Nihil ignoveris…nihil gratiae concesseris… (Pro Murena 65: “Forgive nothing…concede nothing to favor…”)

And one from Livy:

Nullam aciem, nullum proelium timueris. (Ab Urbe Condita 2.12.11: “Fear no battle-line, fear no proelium.”).

One more independent subjunctive comes under this heading. We are going to see it Chapter 12. Here is a preview. Imagine I say to myself: “I should finish this write-up tonight…or should I?” The stern exhortation yields to doubt, and I begin to deliberate mecum. That’s in a nutshell the so-called deliberative subjunctive – a perversion of will and determination.

To be cont’d.


2 thoughts on “Subjunctivitis: Diagnosis and Treatment (Subjunctive of Will)

  1. Dialogue from law school days:

    Professor: Mr. Smart, if you were the judge, would decide this case for the plaintiff or the defendant?

    Law Student: If I was the judge. . .

    Professor: Mr. Smart, I you were the judge, you would use the subjunctive.

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