Author Topic: ...if you are / were free  (Read 7247 times)

Offline panini

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Re: ...if you are / were free
« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2019, 10:10:09 AM »
"Grammatically correct" generally means "follows certain normative rules", such as set forth in Strunk & White. This "subjunctive" form is dying out in actual speech, so you will encounter a range of uses and opinions, depending on who you ask. If you say something like "Had I known about the train, I would have left earlier", you will mark yourself as "talking funny". You could get away with it in a formal lecture, but not if you're just chatting with your mates at the local, or having a beer with friends at the bar. It is most-dead in the US, among the young. OTOH, *"Have I known about the train,...." is just plain and universally ungrammatical. If you use it, you're socially expected to use it correctly, following those normative rules (whatever they are). Your shirt example is a good example of people making stuff up – hyper-rationalizing.

IMO it is most productive to focus on classical conditional contexts – the difference between "If he had dug a hole" vs. "If he dug a hole" or "If he has dug a hole"; "If he were rich" vs. "If he was rich" or "If he is rich". For me, "If he has dug a hole, he would be covered in dirt" is not quite ungrammatical, but I really don't like it. But I suspect that the kids on the corner talk that way. If your goal is to emulate a certain social class, e.g. The Posh (of England), then you probably need a Posh tutor. I believe that if you can get the had/has difference figured out in this context (actual conditionals), you might be able to apply that to the other contexts where "if" is used.

Offline Daniel

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Re: ...if you are / were free
« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2019, 01:10:17 PM »
'By selecting "were" in your pair, you are suggesting that the addressee is not free, which is a way of defeating the inference that you've just imposed an obligation on the addressee (since the sentence is plainly a request for a meeting).'
It can mean that (by using that form-- or "had been"-- instead of "are"), but it can also just be a more formal way of phrasing it, without implying that you are not free. This is a very common formal request structure. (It's grammatically odd, as one of a few times we preserve the subjunctive usage, and it's only found in formal/learned speech patterns, not as something that is particularly natural or colloquial, but it isn't particularly rare either.)
Really, the form is not asserting whether or not you are free, which is what the subjunctive does (because it's not an indicative form, and doesn't assert). So yes, it contrasts with "are" (indicative) in that sense, but given that "are" is already in a conditional statement, there's no entailment of being free anyway. It's just emphasizing the lack of assertion. Basically it's the grammatical equivalent of saying "I don't want to trouble you, but..."
« Last Edit: August 17, 2019, 01:11:48 PM by Daniel »
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