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Verb: the Category of Mood
The category of Mood is the most controversial category of the verb.
B.A. Ilyish: » The category of mood in the present English verb has
given rise to so many discussions, and has been treated in so many
different ways, that it seems hardly possible to arrive at any more less
convincing and universally acceptable conclusion concerning it.»
Among the scholars to be named in the first place in relation to the
problem are A.I. Smirnitsky, whose theories revolutionized the
presentation of English verbal grammar; then B.A. Ilyish , a linguist
who made a great contribution to the general problem of mood; then Y.N.
Vorontsova; Z.S. Khlebnikova.
The category of Mood expresses the relations between the action, denoted
by the verb, and the actual reality from the point of view of the
speaker. The speaker may treat the action/event as real, unreal or
problematic or as fact that really happened, happens or will happen, or
as an imaginary phenomenon.
It follows from this that the category of Mood may be presented by the
obligue mood — direct mood
= unreality = reality.
The former is the strong member.
The latter is the weak member.
Mood relates the verbal action to such conditions as certainty,
obligation, necessity, possibility.
The most disputable question in the category of mood is the problem of
number and types of Obligue Moods. Obligue Moods denote unreal or
problematic actions so they can’t be modified by the category of tense
proper. They denote only relative time, that is simultaneousness or
priority. Due to the variety of forms it’s impossible to make up regular
paradigms of Obligue Moods and so classify them.
Some authors pay more attention to the plane of expression, other to the
plane of content. So different authors speak of different number and
types of moods. The most popular in Grammar has become the system of
moods put forward By Prof. Smirnitsky. He speaks of 6 mood forms:
The Indicative Mood
The Imperative Mood
The Conditional Mood
The Suppositional Mood
Subjunctive I expresses a problematic action. Subjunctive I is used in
American English and in newspaper style. Subjunctive I coincides with
the Infinitive without the particle to. Ex.: Ring me up if he would
This mood is expressed in English to a very minor extent (e.g.: So be it
then!). It is only used in certain set expressions, which have to be
learned as wholes:
Come what may, we will go ahead.
God save the Queen!
Suffice it to say that…
Be that as it may…
Heaven forbid that…
So be it then.
Long live the King!
Grammar be hanged!
This Mood is also used in that clauses, when the main clause contains an
expression of recommendation, resolution, demand, etc. The use of this
subjunctive I occurs chiefly in formal style (and especially in Am E)
where in less other devices, such as to — infinitive or should =
It is necessary that he be there.
It is necessary that he should be there.
It is necessary for him to be there.
Subjunctive II denotes an unreal action and it coincides in the form
with the Past Indefinite Tense (Subjunctive II Present) or Past Perfect
(Subjunctive II Past). Ex.: I wish he had told the truth. If only he
Mood is expressed in English to a much greater extent by past tense
If you taught me, I would learn quickly.
If she was/were to do smth like that.
He spoke to me as if I was/ were deaf…
I wish I was/were was
1) “Was” is more common in less formal style
2) Only “were” is acceptable in «As it were» (= so to speak)
3) “Were” is usual in «If I were you».
The Conditional Mood denotes an unreal action and is built by the
auxiliary verb «world» + any Infinitive a non-perfect infinitive
expresses Simultaneousness while a perfect infinitive expresses
priority. E.g.: But for the rain we would go for a walk. But for the
rain we would have gone…
The Suppositional Mood also expresses a problematic action and is formed
with the help of the auxiliary verb «should» for all the persons +
Infinitive. E.g.: Ring me up if he should be there.
This mood can be used with any verb in subordinate that — clauses when
the main clause contains an expression of recommendation resolution,
demand etc. (demand, require, insist, suggest…) E.g.: It is necessary
that every member should inform himself of these rules = It is necessary
for every member to inform… It is strange that he should have left so
Subjunctive I and the Suppositional Mood are differentiated only by
their form but their meaning is the same.
Taking into consideration the fact that the forms of the Obligue Moods
coincide in many cases with the forms of the Indicative Mood, there
arises a problem of homonymy or polysemy. E.g.: He lived here. (The
indicative Mood, Past Tense, Priority, real action).
If only he lived! (Subjunctive II, simultaneousness, unreal action)The
The general review
Grammatically, the verb is the most complex part of speech. This is due
to the central role it performs in the expression of the predicative
function of the sentence, i.e. the functions establishing the connection
between the situation named in the utterance and reality.
The complexity of the verb is inherent not only in the intricate
structure of its grammatical, categories, but also in its various
The complicated character of the grammatical and lexico-grammatical
structure of the verb has given rise to much dispute and controversy and
also terminological disagreements among the scholars. The general
categorical meaning of the verb is process.
A verb is a word (e.g.: to run) or a phrase (e.g.: run out of), which
expresses the existence of a state (love, seem) or the doing of an
action (take, play).
From the point of view of their outward structure, verbs may be simple,
composite and phrasal.
The original simple verbs are not numerous (go, take, real, etc).
But conversion (zero-suffixation) as means of derivation, greatly
enlarges the simple stem set of verbs. It is one of the most productive
ways of forming verbs in ME.
Ex.: a cloud — to cloud, a house — to house, a man — to man, a park — to
The typical suffixes expanding the stem of the verb are: -ate; -en;
The verb-deriving prefixes are:
Be- (e.g.: belittle, befriend, bemoan);
En- (e.g.: engulf, embed);
Re- (e.g.: remake);
Under- (e.g.: undergo);
Over- (e.g.: overestimate);
Sub- (e.g.: submerge);
Mis- (e.g.: misunderstand)
The composite verb stems (blackmail, whitewash, etc).
Phrasal verbs occupy an intermediate position between analytical forms
of the verb and syntactic word combinations. Among such stems 2 specific
constructions should be mentioned:
A) a combination of the head-verb (have, give, take and some others)
with a noun; the combination has its equivalent an ordinary verb. Ex.:
to have a smoke — to smoke; to give a smile — to smile; to take a stroll
— to stroll.
B) а combination of a head verb with a verbal postposition that has a
specificational value. Ex. stand up; go on; give in; be off, get along.
On the basis of the subject-process relation all the notional verbs be
divided into actional and statal.
Actional verbs express the action performed by the subject. To this
class belong such verbs as do, act, make, go, read, learn, discover,
Statal verbs denote the caste of their subject. To this subclass belong
such verbs as be live, survive, worry, suffer, see, know, etc. They
usually occur in the simple form in all tenses. They are not generally
used in progressive forms. But if there are used so there any change of
meaning. E.g.: Oh, it hurts! — Oh, it’s hurting!
Finite & non-finite verbs
The complicated structure and character of the verb has given rise to
much dispute and controversy. The morphological field of the English
verb heterogeneous. It includes a number of groups or classes of verbs,
which differ from each other in their morphological and syntactic
All English verbs have finite and non-finite forms.
The finite verb invariably performs the function of the verb- predicate.
Finite verbs are subdivided into regular and irregular depending on the
way the participle II are formed.
Non-finite verbs perform different functions according to their
intermediary nature (subject, object, adverbial modifier, attribute).
They may be used as any member of the sentence but the predicate. Inside
the sentence verbals make up complexes with other members of the
The nucleus of the morphological field of the verb is based on the
finite verbs, and the periphery includes all other groups of verbs and
The grammatical categories which find formal expression in the outward
structure of the verb are categories of person, number, tense, aspect,
voice, mood. This complete set is revealed in every word-form of the
notional finite form.
From the functional point of view the class of verbs may be subdivided
into the set of full nominative value and partial. Notional verbs are
verbs of full nominative value. The set of partial nominative value
represent semi-notional and functional verbs. The first set is
derivationally open it includes the bulk of the verbal lexicon. The
second set is derivationally closed, it includes limited subsets of
verbs characterized by individual relational properties.
Semi-notional and functional verbs include auxiliary verbs, modal verbs,
link-verbs. Semi-notional verbs (seem, happen, turn out, begin,
continue, stop, fall, try, etc).
Link-verbs: seem, appear, look, feel, become, get, grow, remain, keep.
Auxiliary verbs constitute grammatical elements of the categorical forms
of the verb. These are the verbs be, have, do shall, will, should, may,
might. Auxiliary verbs to give other information about actions and
Ex. be may be used with the present participle of a full verb to say
that an action was going on at a particular time («in progress»). I was
Ex.: The verb “to have” may be used with the past participle of a full
verb to say that an action is completed (I have finished my job).
Link-verbs introduce the nominal part of the predicate (the
predicative), which is commonly expressed by a noun, an adjective or a
phrase of a similar semantico-grammatical character. It should be noted
that link-verb, although they are named so, are not devoid of meaningful
content. Their function is connecting (linking) the subject and the
predicative of the sentence. The linking function in the purest form is
effected by the verb be (pure link-verb). All the link-verbs other than
the pure links the pure specification express some specification
(specifying link-verbs). Two main groups:
A) perceptional link verbs: seem, appear, look, feel, taste.
B) factual limk-verbs: become, get, grow, remain, keep.
Verbals make up a special grammatical category.
Among the various forms of the verb the infinitive occupies a unique
position. Its status is that of the principal representative of the
verb-lexeme as a whole. This is determined by the two factors:
A) its giving the most general dynamic name to the process;
B) its serving as the actual derivative base for all the other regular
forms of the verb.
The Infinitive is intermediate between the verb and the noun. It
combines the properties of the verb with those of the noun. It is
considered as the head-form of the whole paradigm of the verb.
The Participle is intermediate between the verb and the adjective and
The Present Participle is the non-finite form of the verb which combines
the properties of the verb and those of the adjective and adverb,
serving as qualifying processual name. In its outer form the present
participle is wholly homonymous with the gerund and distinguishes the
same grammatical categories.
Like all the verbals it has no categorical time distinctions, and the
attribute «present» in its conventional name is not immediately
explanatory; it is used from force of tradition.
Past Participle is the non-finite form of the verb which combines the
properties of the verb with those of the adjective, serving as the
qualifying processual name. It is a single form, having no paradigm of
its own. It conveys implicitly the categorial meaning of the perfect and
the passive. The main functions in the sentence are those of the
attribute and the predicative.
The gerund is the non- finite form of the verb, which like the
infinitive combines the properties of the verb with those of the noun.
Similar to the infinitive, gerund serves as me verbal name of a process,
but its substantive quality is more strongly pronounced than that of the
A question might arise, why the Infinitive and not the gerund is taken
as the head-form of the verbal paradigm?
The gerund cannot perform the function of the paradigmatic head-form for
a number of reasons. In the first place, it is more detached from the
finite verb than the infinitive semantically. Then it is a suffixal
form, which makes it less generalized. Finally, it is less definite,
being subject to easy neutralization in its opposition. Hence the gerund
is no rival of the infinitive in the paradigmatic head-form function.
The formal sign of the gerund is wholly homonymous with that of the
present participle: it is the suffix ”-ing” added to the grammatically
leading element. Like the infinitive the gerund is a categorially
changeable form. It distinguishes the aspective category of
retrospective coordination (perfect in opposition), and the category of
voice (passive in opposition). Consequently the categorical paradigm of
the gerund includes 4 forms: the simple, the perfect active, the simple
passive the perfect passive.
Modal verbs express the attitude: ability, obligation, permission,
advisability, probability. Modal Verbs are defective in forms. They do
not differentiate the category of person, number, voice, aspect,
perfect, no future tense no verbals. They have lost many of their
Modal verbs or modals are concerned with our relationship with someone
else. Modal have 2 major functions which can be defined as primary and
Primary function of Modal Verbs. In their primary function MVs closely
reflect the meanings:
A) of ability (can/could). / can lift 25 kg/I can type.
B) of permission (may/might). You may leave early.
C) of prediction (will/would) — (shall/should). It will rain soon.
D) Of escapable obligation or duty (should/ought to). You should (ought
to) do as you are told.
E) Of inescapable obligation. You must be quiet. F) Of absence of
obligation. You needn’t wait.
Secondary function of MVs
In their secondary function nine of modal auxiliaries can be used to
express the degree of certainly/uncertainly a speaker fuels about a
possibility. They can be arranged on a scale from the greatest
uncertainty (might) to the greatest certainty (must).
can be right
should have been right
You ought to
The category of aspect
The aspective meaning of the verb reflects the mode of the realization
of the process. The opposition of the continuous forms of the verb to
the non-continuous represents the aspective category of development. The
marked member of the opposition is the continuous. It is built by the
auxiliary be plus the Present Participle. In symbolic notation it is
represented by the formula be…ing. The categorial meaning of the
Continuous is «action in progress».
The unmarked member is the indefinite, which leaves the meaning
unspecified. Four combinations of the continuous and the indefinite are
possible in principle in Modern English. E.g.: While I was typing, Mary
and Tom were chatting in the adjoining room. While I typing, Tom and
Mary were chatting in the adjoining room. While I was typing, they
chatted in … While I typed, they chatted.
Clearly, the difference in meaning cannot lie in their time denotations.
The time is shown by their time signals (were — ed). The meaningful
difference consists in the following: the continuous shows the action in
the very process of its realization; the indefinite points it out as a
mere fact. We speak of the morphological category of the verb, but care
should be taken that the character of the development of the action may
also be expressed lexically or remain implicit. E.g.: When I entered the
room he was writing a letter. He wrote and wrote the letter (lexically).
When I entered the room, he wrote a letter.
In the last sentence the form of the verb doesn’t express the Continuous
aspect explicitly because the speaker isn’t interested in the action,
but in the object of the action. Traditionally forms like «is writing»
are called Present, Past, Future Continuous Tense, but that is not quite
right. Such forms should be called Present Tense, Continuous aspect (is
writing). The Present Tense is modified by the Continuous. It the
Continuous were a special tense then we should speak of 2 tenses at
once. But the action can’t develop in 2 tenses at once. If the actions
are not progressive by themselves (if they are not shown as
progressive), the description will go without the continuous forms. The
Continuous refers a to a definite time-point. The category of
development undergoes explicit various reductions:
1. The unlimitive verbs are very easily neutralized Ex. The night is
wonderfully silent. The stars shine with a fierce brilliancy, the
Southern Cross and wind. The Duke’s face seemed blushed, and more lined
than some of his recent photographs showed. He held a glass in his hand.
2. As to the statal verbs, their neutralization amounts to a grammatical
rule. They are so called «never-used-in-the-Continuous» verbs: a) the
unique “to be” and “to have”; b) verbs of possession, verbs of relation,
of physical perception, of mental perception
3. Worthy of note is the regular neutralization with the introductory
verb supporting the participial construction of parallel action. Ex. He
stood smoking a pipe. Not normally: He was standing smoking.
4. On the other hand, the Continuous can be used to denote habitual,
recurrent actions. Continuous verb forms are more expressive than
non-continuous — they are used in emotional speech. Ex.: He is always
5. Special note should be of the broadening use of the Continuous with
unlimitive verbs. Here are some typical examples. Ex. I heard a rumor
that a certain member here present has been seeing the prisoner this
afternoon (E.M. Forster). I had a horrid feeling she was seeing right
through me and knowing all about me. What matters is, you’re being damn
6. Compare similar transpositions in the expressions of anticipated
future. E.g.: Dr. Aarons will be seeing the patient this morning
(A.Hailey). Soon we shall be hearing the news about the docking of the
spaceships having gone through.
Since the neutralization of the Continuous with these verbs is quite
regular, we have an emphatic reduction serving the purpose of speech
The Category of voice
The category of Voice expresses relations between the subject and the
object of the action or between the subject and the action.
The opposition of the passive form of the verb to the active form of the
verb expresses the voice of the English Verb. E.g.: writes — is written.
The passive form is the strong member of the opposition. On the plane of
expression it is marked by the combination of the auxiliary be with the
Past Participle of the notional verb. The active form as a weak member
of the opposition expresses «non-passivity». The Active Voice shows that
the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action. The Passive Voice
shows that the subject is acted upon. The agent may be expressed in the
sentence and it’s usually introduced with the help of the preposition
by. Ex. The book is written by a young writer.
The sentence with the passive voice may include a means of the action,
which is introduced, with the help of the conjunction with. Ex. The book
is covered with a newspaper.
The category of voice has a much broader representation in the system of
the English verb than in the system of the Russian verb, since in
English not only transitive but also intransitive verbs can be used.
In accord with their relation to the passive voice, all the verbs can be
divided into 2 large sets: the set of passivized verbs and the set of
non-passivized verbs. In particular the passive is alien to many verbs
of the statal subclass, such as have, belong, cost, resemble, fail,
The demarcation line between the passivized and non-passivized set is
not rigid, and the verbs of the non-passivized set may migrate into the
passivized set in various contexts. Ex. The bed has not been slept in.
The house seems not to have been lived in.
Sometimes the opposition between 2 forms may be reduced. It means that
the verb may be used in the Active Voice form with the meaning of the
Passive Voice. Usually we observe it with medial verbs and some authors
speak of the medial Voice.
The matter is that verbs may be transitive (which require a subject and
an object) and intransitive (which do not require an object) because an
action of the verb is directed at a subject. Ex. He reads a book. She
Medial verbs do not require any subject but as the English sentence
requires that the position of the subject should be filled in, then the
object fills in the position of the subject. Ex. The book sells well.
Verbs that are Active in Form but Passive in Meaning
Some verbs which are usually followed by an object (to sell, to cut, to
wash) can be used without an object and take on a passive meaning. In
this, case, the person carrying out the action of the Verb is not
referred to. Ex. This book sells well, i.e. it is sold to many people.
The dress washes/irons, well, i.e. it is easily washed/ironed. This
material makes up nicely into suits, i.e. it can be used by the tailor
for making suits. The butter spreads easily, i.e. it can be spread
easily. The bread is cutting badly because it’s very soft, i.e. to cut
the bread is difficult. Other tenses may also be used. The book sold
well. The dress has washed well. The material will make up nicely.
Note: the verbs are followed by adverbs in the above examples. It is
also possible to omit the adverb, if the meaning is clear. This is often
the case in the question form and in the negative. E.g.: The book didn’t
sell, so it wasn’t reprinted. The dress is very pretty. Will it wash?
The material should make up into a winter dress, shouldn’t it? Butter
won’t spread when it’s been in the fridge. Will the bread cut? If not,
try the other knife.
There are some other verbs of this sort, with the nouns (subjects) that
they are often used with in this construction
(A car) drives, steers
(A boat) sails
(A clock) winds up
(A door) locks, unlocks
(A book) reads well / easily, i.e. the book is good / easy to read.
Large native cigarettes smoked easily and coolly. The lion chops will
eat better than they look.
Problem of neutralization: Passive in form but active in meaning
When dealing with the category of Voice the problem is that the Passive
Voice constructions coincide with the compound nominal predicate ( was
opened ). If this construction (be + Participle II) expresses a state
then it is a compound nominal predicate in the Active Voice. Ex. The
window was broken and it was cold in the room. She was excited (a.v.)
She was excited by the friend’s words. (P. V.)
Besides there 2 Voice some authors speak of some more Voice forms. The
most popular are the Reflexive Voice and the Reciprocal Voice and the
Middle Voice. Ex. She dressed herself. They helped each other.
The reflexive and reciprocal pronouns should be looked upon as the voice
auxiliaries. Such word combinations are treated as analytical verb forms
of the Reflexive or Reciprocal voice . However we can’t agree to the
idea , because :
1. The reflexive/reciprocal pronouns preserve their lexical meaning but
auxiliaries in analytical forms loose their meanings.
2. There are syntactic relations between the components. The reflexive /
reciprocal pronouns are objects to the verbs. We can prove this by using
homogeneous objects. Ex. He dressed himself and his brother. They
praised one another and all the quests. He defended himself, a victim of
Hence, such word combinations are free word combinations. As for the
Middle Voice, some authors find it when comparing the following
sentences: Ex. He opened the door.-The door opened.
The Middle Voice uses are cases of neutralizing reduction of the voice
oppositions. Ex. He broke the ice.-The ice broke.
The verbs are active in form, but passive in meaning. Ex. She was
delightful to look at, witty to talk to.
Another case of neutralization: You are of mistaken (Passive in form,
but active in meaning). It expresses a state.
The forms of the Active Voice can’t be opposed and it there is no
opposition we can’t speak of any special grammatical category. In
sentences like “the door opened” we should speak of medial verbs in the
Category of Tense
The Category of Tense is the basic verb category. It expresses the
correlation between the action and event and objective time. We know
that the actions or event can exist and develop only in time. The
morphological category of tense reflects the objective logical category
of time. But the difficulty is that the morphological category of tense
doesn’t always express the objective time. We should differentiate the
notions of the objective and relative time. In the language we mostly
deal not with objective but with relative time. We can speak of the
objective-time only in those cases wnen the moment of speaking coensides
with a developing action. But actually we take some moment of time as a
starting point in reference to which all the actions are expressed.
If this starting point of time is taken in the plane including the
moment of speaking then we deal with the Present tense.
Any action which proceeds this starting moment of time is expressed by
the Past Tense. And finally, any action which follows this starting
point of time is expressed by the Future Tense. So we differentiate 3
principal tense forms in English: Present, Past, Future.
In English there exists one more specific tense form which is called the
«Future-in-the-Past». This tense form is used when we want to say that
the action is treated as Future in reference to some Past moment of
The Present Tense is formed by the Infinitive without the particle to in
the 3-rd person singular the verb takes the inflexion -s(-es). The Past
Tense of the regular verb is formed with the help of the inflexion -ed.
The Past Tense of the irregular verbs is formed in some different ways:
1) by sound alternation (sit-sat-sat);
2) by sound alternation and a dental suffix (keep-kept-kept);
3) supplitively (be-was/were-been);
4) without any change in the form of the verb (put-put-put).
The Future Tense is formed with the help of the auxiliary verb
shall/will and the infinitive of the notional verb.
The Future-in-the-Past is formed with should/would and infinitive of the
notional verb without the particle «to».
Traditional grammar speaks of 16 tense forms in English but actually
there exist only 4 of them. The matter is that when speaking about an
action we express its primary characteristics of tense but then it may
be necessary to show the character of the development of the action or
to compare the action with some other one and then in suchycases the
primary tense category is modified by some other verb categories such as
aspect (continuous or non-continuous), perfect (perfect or non-perfect).
So we get complex analytical forms, which express not one category of
tense but a number of them. Ex. If we analyze such forms, as «is
reading» we should say that this verb expresses Present Tense and
continuous aspect or perfect. Hence the modification of the category of
Tense by the category of aspect brings about the appearance of 16 verb
When speaking about the category of tense we should remember that we
distinguish different tense forms on the basis of some opposition. But
in a number of cases these oppositions may be reduced. It means that
morphological form typical of one tense may express the meaning of some
other tense. We usually observe it in definite contexts.
Ex. The form of the Present Tense may express the meaning of the Past,
Future Tense in subordinate clauses of time and condition (If I see him
tomorrow I will ask him to do it for you).
Besides the Present Tense may be used to express an action planned for
the Future especially with verbs of motion. When dealing with the
category of tense we should touch upon one more problems, which is
typical of English. The problem is known as the Sequence of tenses. In
English if the predicate verb in the main clause of a complex sentence
is used in the past tense, the predicate verbs in the subordinate
clauses саn be used in the present or future tenses. The Present tense
is replaced by the Past Tense modified or not modified by the Perfect
and the Future Tense is replaced by the Future-in-the-Past.
The Sequence of tenses is explained by many traditional grammars as a
mechanical shift of tenses. However, this explanation can’t be treated
as adequate. No mechanical shift takes place.
In the events in the main and subordinate clauses are simultaneous, then
the same tense forms are used. If the events of the subordinate clause
precede the events of the main clause, than the predicate verb in the
subordinate clause is modified by the Perfect.
In the actions the subordinate clause follow the events of the main
clause, then the predicate verb takes the specific form in the
We observe this correlation of events only when the starting temporal
center is in the Past.
But if the starting point is in the Present, no sequence of tenses is
observed and we use any tense form in the subordinate clause or clauses,
which is required by the logical sequence of events. So what we mean by
the traditional term Sequence of Tenses that is in reality sequence of
events is nothing but a synthesis of two categorical notions:
1) The category of tense which expresses the relation of the action to
some moment of time.;
2) The category of perfect, which expresses the relation of actions to
The Advanced English Course for Foreign Students by Brian Kelly, B.A.
L., Longmans, 1980, pp. 76-91. Theme “Verb: Mood”
A. prose passages. (See also pars. 358-359.)
1. Unless Jim stops burning the candle at both ends, he may ruin both
his health and his prospects. He is certainly going the pace. If he were
able to look into the future, he would not be so wild. There is no doubt
that he will go to the bad. unless he changes his ways. In any case, he
will not get on in the world, if he gives way to his inclinations so
easily. If he tried to control himself, and live more quietly, it would
be better for him. But he is game for anything, when he is in one of his
wild moods. If a young man fools away the time that he should spend in
study, he cannot expect to come off with flying colours in his
examinations. But Jim makes fun of steadiness, and says that if it means
drudgery, hard work is not worth while. According to him, a life that
did not include women, wine, and cards, would not be life at all, but
mere existence. He forgets that if you do not take advantage of your
opportunities while you are young, your life must necessarily be a
failure afterwards. Even supposing a man like that got over his folly
later, and turned over a new leaf, it would probably be too late. If you
should see him, I think you ought to try to persuade him of his
foolishness. You might tell him that it is a shame to see a brilliant
young fellow like him making a fool of himself. If you would try, I
think it might do some good. Do you think you could? Unless we lay our
heads together and find some way of getting him away from the company he
is keeping, he will so to the dogs altogether. But as long as he meets
all attempts to help him with high words, it will be difficult even for
the friends of a lifetime to have patience with him. It would be
difficult to expect anybody to lend a helping hand to a man. // he
persisted, as Jim does, in placing a wrong construction on everything
that is said to him. If only he realized that his friends are acting for
the best, it might be possible to do something for him. But if he
persists in calling everybody a busybody for taking an interest in his
welfare, he must not be surprised if they draw in their horns. If he
keeps on in that strain, everybody will give him up as a bad job.
Supposing everybody were to behave as he does, what would become of the
world? He says that it would be a better place to live in; and that he
would be more impressed with my remarks, did he not suspect that I speak
with my tongue in my cheek. It seems that he has heard rumors of my own
gay and joyous youth. All I can say is that if his actions were to be
considered as a norm of natural behaviour, then / should have been
considered an anchorite by comparison. / should be the last person in
the world to condemn a little fun. provided it did not interfere with
the more serious business of life. A nation can only prosper on
condition • that its citizens work hard and live soberly. Of course. if
Jim is bent on picking quarrels with his best friends, he may do so,
provided that he does not come running to them afterwards to make
friends again. If he sows his wild oats, we are not going to reap the
2. I must visit Mrs. X. today, because she is not well again. If she
were more careful of her health, she would not have these attacks.
Things would be different with her, if only she took the rest that she
so badly needs. But she will not, unless somebody convinces her of the
necessity for it. She would get into a state of nervous excitement, if
her relatives were to press her too much about it. Supposing someone did
so, it would only aggregate the already dangerous state in which she now
finds herself. I dare say she could easily get better, provided she took
a little more nourishment. But even supposing she did, it would probably
be of little use, for she would immediately start overtaxing her
strength again. She would work from dawn to dusk, provided she could
stand on her feet. She tries to be patient, but finds it difficult. She
says that if only people would remember how miserable cantankerousness
makes those around them, sick people might be more patient. If she let
her daughter Mary look after household matters, it would be a help. But
she says that Mary is very young yet; and that the servants would
probably not obey her. if she were in charge. I think that Mrs. X. is
mistaken. I am sure that the servants would obey Maty without
hesitation, provided that Mrs. X. supported her with her authority.
3. In the third exercise, we saw that John and Maty had decided to go to
» What station do we leave from?» asked John.
«Waterloo,» answered Mary promptly. «If we hurry, we should get a train
at about two thirty. If we should be late for that, we could get one
about half an hour later.»
» If you would decide beforehand what we are going to do over the
week-end, and avoid this last-minute rush.» said John, » we might have
some chance of getting somewhere sometime.»
Arrived at Waterloo Station, Mary made her way to the inquiry-office.
«Could you tell me what platform the trains leave for Worthing from? »
» I might, if this were Victoria Station,» answered the clerk with a
grin. «You might try going there.»
» Well now! I must have been mistaken,» cried Mary gaily, turning to
John. » What do you think of that?»
» If I were to say what I thought,» growled John, » this building would
go up in flames.»
» Oh, well,» said Maty cheerfully, » anybody might make a mistake. You
might have made sure yourself before we started, instead of leaving it
all to me.»
» But what shall we do? » persisted John. » If we went to Victoria at
once, we might get a train to arrive in Worthing somewhere before four.
But the afternoon would be half over. Couldn’t we get a train for some
place from this station? We might try Salisbury, where you were born. I
wish we had some kind of hiker’s guide-book.»
» Ask at that bookstall over there,» suggested Mary. » And if they have
one, buy it.»
» Would you mind showing me some kind of hiker’s guide ? » said John; at
» Certainly, sir,» said the assistant. » Might I suggest this one ? »
» Could I have a look at it first ? » said John, and examined it.
» I wish you would consult me before paying for things,» said Mary, on
looking John’s purchase over. » If you did, you might buy the wrong
thing less often. This one has nothing about camping-grounds.»
» Might I suggest,» remarked John, » that Saturday afternoon is hardly
the best time to buy books of the kind anyway ? Even if we should find
one, it would be too late to make any use of it.»
Mary stood stock-still in the middle of the station. «I want a proper
guide-book!» she wailed. «You would get the wrong one \ You might try
and please me just for once. If you were really a loving husband, you
would. You have been behaving like a bear all afternoon. If you don’t
stop, I’ll scream \ »
And she looked as if she would, too. John cast an uneasy glance around
at the passers-by, who were eyeing «the pair curiously. » Come on,» he
said urgently. » If you go on like that, we will never get anywhere.
Let’s go to Victoria, by all means, and see if there is a train. Though
we should have been in Worthing by now, if you had not made the silly
mistake of bringing us here first.»
» If you were as clever as you think you are, you wouldn’t have let me
make it.» retorted Mary.
» Look here, if we go into all that again, we shall be here all night,»
answered John impatiently. » Let’s go.»
They got into a train at a quarter past three, and had to take seats
separately, at opposite ends of the coach, the train was so crowded.
John reflected that it might have been worse, for he required time to
cool down. He found himself sitting with a married couple and their
child, and got into conversation with them.
» Might I ask you,» he said to the man, » if your wife likes hiking ? »
» If she does,» replied the man, » she’s kept the secret pretty well.
You might ask her, though.»
» If I did,» replied the lady, with a placid smile, » it wouldn’t make
much difference, anyway. It would take a good deal to move my husband
out of his garden over a week-end.»
» Lucky husband ! » said John.
4. If you should happen to meet a seer who could look into the future as
well as into the past, you might let me know. If / had ever met such a
person, / should have asked him to drop in and have a chat, long ago.
For there are so many interesting questions that / could have asked him.
For it seems to me that many of the events which have so influenced
modern life might not have taken place, and that many of the advantages
we now enjoy could never have been ours, had not certain men lived ‘in
certain countries at certain dates. For instance, unless there are
financial or personal reasons to slop me, / can go to America if I want
to. Do I owe this to Columbus and Isabella of Castile, or should I have
been able to go even if these people had never seen the light? Again, it
would be interesting to know what would have happened to Asia Minor and
North Africa if Mahomed had never been born ; and whether the Greek
Empire might have recovered from the decline that had set in or whether
some other power would have hurried it on to its ruin and destruction.
If Luther had been a Dominican instead of an Augustinian, what a
difference it might have made. The flower of the Renaissance need not
have withered so soon in northern Europe ; Kant’s philosophy might have
taken a different direction ; Henry the Eighth might not have repudiated
his first wife; and English thought might perhaps have been a little
more logical. But in that case, we should not have had the charming
destructiveness of Bernard Shaw, or the wild and beautiful expression of
Shelly’s spiritual hunger.
If we had not taken Western ideas to Japan, need we have been worrying
to-day about her expansion in the Far East ? Dared she have undertaken
the Chinese adventure, if England and the U.S.A. had put, their foot
down firmly in the beginning ?
Would I have had a vote to-day, if Rousseau had not written his » Social
Contract,» and if Voltaire had not blazed up in a white flame of anger
at the injustices of his epoch ?
As for the Great War, could the Allies have been .successful, if
Gettysburg had been lost instead of gained by the forces of the North ?
Who knows . . .? There are so many «ifs» in life!
B. THE USE OF THE CONDITIONAL SENTENCES
38. In a simple statement of cause and effect (par. 66), the verb which
expresses the condition is either of the same tense as the verb that
expresses the result, or one of the verbs is in the present tense, and
the other is in the present perfect.
E.g.: If you mix glycerine with potassium permanganate, you get
spontaneous combustion. If you live in London, you have learnt what fog
is. If you have lived in Madrid, you know the Puerto del Sol. If one
lived in London during the war, one had to do without many luxuries. If
you have been in Rome, you have probably seen St. Peter’s.
39. Where the possibility of fulfilling the condition is entertained, we
express the residt by means of «shall» or » will», or by means of the
imperative, or by means of any other suitable anomalous finite in the
present tense. The condition can be expressed by means of any ordinary
verb in the present tense.
E.g.: If I drink wine with my lunch to-day, / shall feel uncomfortable
all afternoon. If you break your journey-in Paris, you will have time to
see Notre Dame. If John studies hard, he may pass the exam. If you
finish your work before six, you can go home. If you get the
opportunity, you must meet her. If you go to London, you must visit the
British Museum. If he comes here, you ought to refuse to see him. If he
calls, tell him / am not at home. He will talk about religion, if he can
get a listener. If you really are unwell, you had better go to bed. If
he gives the order, / dare not obey it. If his father leaves him the
money, he need not work any more. If you really are diabetic, you must
not eat sugary food. If you cannot control your temper, you should not
get into arguments.
40. If the fulfillment of the condition is considered less likely or
less welcome than some other alternative, however,» should» is used in
the conditional clause. E.g., Should he refuse to do it, arrest him at
once. Should the worst come to the worst, I can always leave the
country. Should the crisis come, I shall be at my post.
41. When the fulfillment of the condition is considered rather unlikely,
the condition is expressed by the preterit (q.v.) of any suitable verb ;
and the result by means of » should,» » would,» » might,» or » could «.
E.g., If I drank wine with my lunch, / should be uncomfortable all
afternoon. Provided / broke my journey in Paris, / could see Notre Dame.
If she stood up to her husband, he would not bully her. He might be
cured of his tuberculosis, on condition that he went to some place like
42. Where the fulfillment of the condition is considered highly
improbable, or impossible, the condition is expressed by means of the
anomalous finite » were» in all three persons, followed by the
infinitive with » to,» or by a noun or pronoun complement. The result is
expressed by » should,» » would,» » might,» or » could » The use of
«should» in the second and third persons strengthens the unreality of
the supposition. E.g., Where should one finish, if one were to act in
accordance with that criterion. If / were you, I should not do it. /
could never forget it, were I to live to be a hundred. If he were to
live in Paris, he might change his ideas about Frenchmen. / would help
you, if / were able to. If / were rich, I could do a lot of things that
I cannot do now.
43. When the fulfillment of the condition depends on chance, we express
the condition by means of «should» with an infinitive, in all three
persons. The result is expressed by an infinitive preceded by the past
or present tense of any of the anomalous finites except» will» and »
would» in the meaning of custom or obstinacy, and » used to.» The
imperative can also be used. E.g., If you should see John, you may as
well humor him. If / should come into a fortune, / might go on a trip
round the world. If you should find the book, send it along to my house.
If you should happen to hear from him before tomorrow, you can telephone
me. If you should hear any strange noise, you must telephone the police
at once. If he should find himself in difficulties, he ought to be able
to extricate himself easily. If you should be unable to finish the work
in time, you had better ask Miss Smith to help you. If they should find
the dog, they will let you know at once. If the lions should escape,
they would be caught at once. If it should get dark before you arrive,
you need not be afraid, as the roads are quite safe. I dare not think
what / might do if he should get ill. / might do anything.
44. When the fulfillment of the condition depends on consent, » would»
with an infinitive expresses the condition in all three persons (par. 21
(B)). The result is expressed by » should» » would,» » might,» or »
could.» E.g., / might understand you better, provided you would speak a
little more slowly. / could not do it if / would. If he would show a
little more good will. / would help him. If he would arrange the
preliminaries, / could go on with the work alone.
45. Conditionals dependent on consent are often used incompletely in
polite language.1 The result with » might» is also used alone, often
indignantly. Could you send the parcel at once? I.e., Could you send the
parcel now, if you would? You might get the letter written at once.
I.e., You might write the letter now, if you would. You might at least
be polite! You might wipe your feet before you come in! I had rather you
did not go.
46. To indicate a past condition, which was not fulfilled, the condition
is expressed by » had » or » could have » followed by a past participle;
and the result is expressed by means of the perfect infinitive of any
suitable verb, preceded by the past tense of any anomalous finite except
«had better» «used to,» and must (obligation). E.g., If / had told him
that, he would have been angry. If the wireless operator had repaired
his transmitter, the ship could have been saved. If you had received the
order, you should have obeyed. If / had got your letter in time, / could
have come. If he could have found a friend, he need not have starved. If
he had been threatened with a pistol, he dare not have resisted. Had I
known, I should have come. Could he have helped me, he would have done
so. Had he lived, he was to have been Prime Minister.
463. The part of the sentence which expresses the condition can be
introduced by one of the following conjunctions:
on condition that as long as provided providing
if if only suppose supposing
Ex.: Unless John stops playing the fool, he will not be a success in
life. Supposing everybody behaved like- that, what would become of the
world ? As long as he continues obstinate, one cannot, do anything about
it. She could get better, provided she took a little nourishment.
466. The conjunction introducing the condition is often omitted when the
fulfilment of the condition is unlikely (par. 41); highly improbable or
impossible (par. 42); or unwelcome (par. 40). It can also be omitted in
sentences expressing a condition depending on chance (par. 43); or a
past condition that was not fulfilled (par. 46).
In all these cases, the condition is introduced by an anomalous finite,
followed immediately by its subject. E.g., Should he refuse to pay, see
your solicitor? Did I know, I might tell you. Were he to live in Paris,
he might change his ideas. Should you see John, ask ‘him to ring you up.
Had I told him, he would have been angry. Had I got your letter; I could
have arranged the matter. There might be some possibility of my helping
you, did I have the money.
C. EXERCISES ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF CONDITIONAL SENTENCES.
(a) Change Prose Passage (i) so as to convey that fulfillment of the
conditions expressed is rather unlikely.
(b) Change Prose Passage (2) so that the sentences express past
(c) Change the following sentences, so as to indicate that the
fulfillment of the» conditions given is unwelcome.
E.g.: If people talk scandal in her presence, Mary tells them that they
ought not to run down their friends and neighbors. If they take it badly
and break off with her, Mary remains as cool as a cucumber. If they drop
on her, she says, she has no need to worry. If they do not mind their
p’s and q’s while they are with her, it is necessary for her to bring it
home ‘to them that they must not tear other people’s characters to
shreds. If they want to make innocent fun of other people, it is quite
another matter. If they send her to Coventry as a result of her
attitude, well and good. She can grin and bear it.
(d) Change the sentences in the following passage, so as to convey that
the fulfillment of the conditions expressed is almost or completely
E.g.: If Solomon conies back to earth again, he will find everything
changed, at least superficially, with the exception of the heart of man.
He will notice, for instance, if he picks up a newspaper, that all men
are still liars. Indeed, he will be enormously surprised if he finds any
thing else to be the case. As he remarked some thousands of years ago, »
That which is crooked cannot be made • straight.» If he enters the
divorce courts and listens to the divorce cases, he will find that model
wives are as scarce as ever. And if anyone tells him with pride., that
women can now be freed from bad husbands, he will murmur inconsequently,
» Who can find a virtuous woman ? For her price is above rubies! »
Should anybody ask him what he thinks of all the wonderful discoveries
that have been made since his time, he will answer obstinately, » Is
there anything whereof it may be said ‘ This is new …» There is no new
thing under the sun.» But he will notice one new thing, just the same.
He will observe, provided he gets the opportunity to mix with a few
English families, that whereas in his day the women got their own way
with their menfolk by diplomatically managing them, they now rule the
poor males openly and brutally. And, unless he is more unobserving than
I take him to be, he will draw consolation from the fact that a man need
not, indeed cannot, any longer be saddled with a hundred shrewish wives
at once, but can have them one at a time, if he is willing to spend
sixty pounds or so in divorce expenses.
(e) Where possible, change the following sentences so as to convey that
the conditions depend for their fulfilment either on chance or on
E.g.: If I get a lot of money left to me, I shall start a newspaper.
Supposing somebody realizes what good I can do in this way, and provides
me with the wherewithal, the newspaper will be a sensation. What will
you say if you pick up a newspaper that tells the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth? If I get the necessary capital, and if
I manage to find ten men or so who are incrable of lying, the success of
the venture is assured. But it will be difficult to fulfil these
conditions. Most people, including newspapermen, cannot undertake to
tell the truth, even if they want to. For he is a brave man who tries to
tell the truth to others, when he cannot tell it to himself. If you ever
meet a man who can be perfectly frank with himself, you might introduce
me to him. And if he wants to take on the chief editorship of my paper,
I shall pay him an enormous salary. By pure force of truth, he will make
the thing a success, even if I do not find any others like him to assist
1.Change Prose Passage (4) so as to make the sentences express
conditions whose fulfillment is rather likely.
2. Classify the conditional sentences in Prose Passage (3) under
separate headings, according to the class of condition expressed.
D. QUESTIONS ON THE PROSE PASSAGES
1. May John ruin his health and prospects? What would prevent him from
being wild? What is there no doubt of? Will he get on in the world? What
would be better for him? When is he game for anything? What cannot a
young man expect? What does Jim make fun of? Why? What kind of life
would be mere existence? What does he forget? If a man like that got
over his folly, what would be the result? If you should see him, what
ought you to do? What might you tell him? What might do some good?
Unless we lay our heads together, what will happen? If he meets all
attempts to help him with high words, what will be the result? What
would it be difficult to expect anybody to do? Under what condition
might it is possible to do something for him? Why must not he be
surprised if people draw in their horns? If he keeps up in that strain,
what will happen? What does he say would happen if everybody were to
behave as he does? Under what condition would he be more impressed with
my remarks? What is your answer to that? Would you condemn a little fun?
How can a nation prosper? Under what condition may Jim pick quarrels
with his best friends? If he sows his wild oats, who will reap the crop?
2. Under what conditions would Mrs. X. not have her attacks? How could
things be different with her? Will she take the rest she needs? If her
relatives were to press her, what would happen? What would aggravate her
state? How could she get better? Would nourishment be of any use? What
would she do from dawn to dusk? What does she say would make sick people
more patient? What would be help? Does she think the servants would obey
Mary? Under what condition would the servants obey Mary ‘?
3. Does Mary expect to catch the two thirty? Does she consider the
unwelcome possibility of missing it ? How do you know? What remark does
John make about last minute rushes? What did Mary say at the Waterloo
inquiry office? What did the clerk answer? Did Mary ask John what he
thought of it? And what did John answer? What does Mary think John might
have done? What does John think might happen if they went to Victoria
immediately? What does Mary tell John to do at the bookstall? What does
John say at the bookstall? What did the assistant say? What did John
answer? Why did Mary wish John would consult her before buying things?
What suggestion did John ask to be allowed to make? What did Mary do
then? What did she wail that John might try and do? If he didn’t stop
behaving like a bear, what would she do? Why did John cast an uneasy
glance around? What did he say urgently? What did he suggest? Under what
condition would they have been in Worthing by then? What was Mary’s
retort, and John’s impatient answer? What did John reflect when he had
to take a seat separate from Mary? What question did he ask the man
passenger? What did the man answer? What did the lady reply when he
asked her if she liked hiking?
4. What might you let me know ? If I had met a seer, what should I have
done ? What could I have asked him ? What does it seem to me ? Under
what condition can I go to America ? What reflex ion do I make about
Columbus and Isabella of Castile ? What would it be interesting to know
about Asia Minor and North Africa ? What is an interesting conjecture
about the fate of the Greek Empire ? What might have happened if Luther
had been a Dominican ? What should we probably not have had, in like
case ? What about Japan? What reflection do I make about my right to
vote ? Under what conditions would the Allies not have been able to win
the war ?
In this class of sentence, the condition is often left unexpressed.
E.g.: Do you think that Fred will pass his exam. ? Well, of course, he
might . . . i.e., He might, if he studied. Will you lend me five pounds?
Well, of course, / could . . . i.e., / could if I trusted you.