New Forms of the Subjunctive Mood

§ 502. In OE the forms of the Subj. Mood, like other forms of the verb, were synthetic. In the course of ME and Early NE there sprang up several new analytical forms of the Subj. Mood. The sources of the new forms as well as the ways of their development are in many respects similar to those of the Future tense.

In ME the formal distinctions between the Subj. and Ind. Moods were to a large extent neutralised. The increased homonymy of the forms stimulated the more extensive use of modal phrases, indicating imaginary and probable actions.

As stated above in OE modal phrases consisting of sculan, willan, maʒan and an Inf. were commonly used to indicate future actions; if the modal verb had the form of the Subj. - Pres. or Past. - the meanings of the phrase approached that of the Subj. Mood of the notion­al verb, with some additional shades of modality, belonging to the modal verbs:

swā pæt hē mehle ǣʒperne ʒerǣ can, ʒif hie ǣniʒne feld sēcan wolden ‘so that he might reach either (army), if they (those armies) wanted to get to the battlefield’

§ 503. In ME many more modal phrases of similar meaning came into use, with biden, deignen, granten, leten, b.n lever, have(n) lever, neden’ as their first components (NE bid, deign, grant, let, ‘please’, need); but sholde and wolde outnumbered the other verbs. Modal phrases expressing problematic and imaginary actions occur in the works of Chaucer and his contemporaries along with the old synthetic forms: In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon That to the offrynge before hir sholde goon.

(‘In all the parish there was not one wife who would go before her to the offering.’)

I hadde levere than twenty pound worth land,

Though it right now were fallen in my hond...

(‘I had better (have it) than twenty pound worth of land, though it should fall into my hands right now.’)

§ 504. ME sholde and wolde could weaken or even lose their lexical meanings and turn into auxiliaries. By the age of Shakespeare the change was complete and the forms should/would - originally Past Subj. of shall and will - had become formal markers of the new, analytical forms of the Subj. Mood. The following quotation shows that they did not differ in meaning:

If all were minded so, the times should cease

And threescore year would make the world away. (Shakespeare)

The use of should and would as mood auxiliaries was supported by the parallel development of shall and will as the auxiliaries of the Fu­ture tense. The rules prescribing the distribution of shall and will accord­ing to person (see § 500) applied also to should and would. Consequently, in the course of the 18th and 19th c. should became the dominant auxil­iary for the 1st p., would - for the 2nd and 3rd; those were the rules of correct usage in Standard Br E. At the same time, similarly with will and shall, would and - 'd tended to replace should. The replacement has been completed in Am E and is still going on in Br E, perhaps, under American influence.

§ 505. The development of the new forms of the Subj. Mood was accompanied by important changes in the use of forms - both synthetic and analytical - and by certain modifications in their meanings.

On the whole, as compared with OE, the use of the Subj. Mood be­came more restricted: gradually it fell out of use in indirect speech - ex­cept in indirect questions, where forms of the Subj. Mood in Early NE remained fairly common. In adverbial clauses of time and concession the Ind. was preferred, though instances of the Subj. are found not only in Chaucer and Shakespeare but also in the works of later authors.

As the frequency of the forms with should and would grew, the em­ployment of the old synthetic forms became more restricted. In Early NE, the new analytical forms did not differ from the synthetic forms in meanings and usage and were interchangeable practically in any context, cf.:

How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,

If thou couldst answer... (Shakespeare)

And if the angel should have come to me And told me Huber should put out mine eyes,

I would not have believed him. (Shakespeare)

It was not until the end of the 18th c. that the modern differentiation in the usage of synthetic and analytical forms was established.

§ 506. As compared with OE, the meanings of the tenses in the Subj. Mood underwent some alterations. In ME and Early NE the Past tense acquired a new function: to indicate a present or future action presented as imaginary or unreal. The Pres. tense of the Subj. Mood expressed probable or problematic actions referred to the future, or, less frequently, to the present; it was most common in adverbial clauses of condition, e.g.:

Thou shall nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood,

Be maister of my body and my good. (Chaucer)

(‘You shall not be master both of my body and goods even though you were mad.’)

But Jesu Christ, as ye in bookes fynde,

Wil that his glory laste and be in mynde. (Chaucer)

‘But Jesus Christ, as you find in the books, desires that his glory (should) last and be kept in mind.’

At the time of Shakespeare the modal difference between the forms became even more distinct.

In order to indicate improbable events in the past, a new set of forms came to be used: the Past Perf. forms which did not differ from the forms of the Ind. Mood. These forms occur already at the time of Chaucer and are quite common in later ages:

Myself I wolde have do the same.

Before God, hadde I ben as she. (Chaucer)

(‘Before God I, myself, would have done the same, had I been like her.’)

Yet this disposition of mind had cost him dear, if God had not been gracious. (Th. More)[59]

Similar semantic differences developed in the system of the new analytical forms: should/would plus the Indef. Inf. indicated a simul­taneous or subsequent action of problematic or imaginary character, while should/would with the Perf. Inf. presented a past or a preceding improbable event:

If he were living I would try him yet....

Creatures may be alike: were’t he, I am sure

He would have spoken to us. (Shakespeare)

§ 507. The following chart shows the sources of the NE forms of the Subj. Mood:

Grammatical forms of the verb Early NE forms of the Subj. Mood Verb phrases with modal verbs (in the Past tense of the Subj. Mood)
OE Subj. Pres. Tense → BE, KNOW  
OE Subj. Past tense → WERE, KNEW  
  SHOULD/WOULD← ME sholde/wolde + simple Inf.
  KNOW  
ME Past Perf.→ HAD BEEN/KNOWN← ME sholde/wolde + Perf. Inf.
  SHOULD/WOULD  
  HAVE KNOWN  

Interrogative and Negative Forms with do

§ 508. The Early NE period witnessed the development of a new set of analytical forms which entered the paradigms of the Pres. and Past Tense of the Ind. Mood (and - to a lesser extent - of the Subj. Mood): interrogative and negative forms with the auxiliary verb do. These forms are known in English grammars as the “periphrasis with do” or “do-periphrasis”.

In ME the verb don was commonly used together with an Inf. to express a causative meaning, e. g.

And dide him grete opes swere (13th c.)

(‘And made him swear great oaths.’)

In Early NE the causative meaning passed to a similar verb phrase with make, while the periphrasis with do began to be employed instead of simple, synthetic forms. Its meaning did not differ from that of simple forms (see the examples below).

At first the do-periphrasis was more frequent in poetry, which may be attributed to the requirements of the rhythm: the use of do enabled the author to have an extra syllable in the line, if needed, without af­fecting the meaning of the sentence. Then it spread to all kinds of texts.

In the 16th and 17th c. the periphrasis with do was used in all types of sentences - negative, affirmative and interrogative; it freely inter­changed with the simple forms, without do. Cf. the following instances from the works of Shakespeare:

We do not know

How he may soften at the sight o’the child...

Who told me that the pour soul did forsake

The mighty Warwick, and did fight for me?

But what we doe determine oft we break...

Negative statements and questions without do are illustrated by

Heard you all this?

I know not why, nor wherefor to say live, boy...

And wherefore say not I that I am old?

Towards the end of the I7th c. the use of simple forms and the do- periphrasis became more differentiated: do was found mainly in nega­tive statements and questions, while the simple forms were preferred in affirmative statements. Thus the do-periphrasis turned into analy­tical negative and interrogative forms of simple forms: Pres. and Past.

§ 509. The growth of new negative and interrogative forms with do can be accounted for by syntactic conditions. By that time the word order in the sentence had become fixed: the predicate of the sentence normally followed the subject. The use of do made it possible to adhere to this order in questions, for at least the notional part of the predicate could thus preserve its position after the subject. This order of words was already well established in numerous sentences with analytical forms and modal phrases. Cf.:

Do you pity him? No, he deserves no pity...

Wilt thou not love such a woman?

And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? (Shakespeare)

Likewise, the place of the negative particle not in negative sentences with modal phrases and analytical forms set up a pattern for the similar use of not with the do-periphrasis. Cf.: I will not let him stir and If I do not wonder how thou darest venture. The form with do conformed with the new pattern of the sentence much better than the old simple form (though sentences with not in postposition to the verb are still common in Shakespeare: I know not which is which).

In the 18th c. the periphrasis with do as an equivalent of the simple form in affirmative statements fell into disuse (its employment in affir­mative sentences acquired a stylistic function: it made the statement emphatic).