Re: Subjunctive mood?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Jun 25 1997 - 21:05:32 EDT

At 2:23 PM -0400 6/25/97, Rod Decker wrote:
>I'm working through a fascinating book this week: Robert Binnick, *Time and
>the Verb: A Guide to Tense and Aspect* (Oxford, 1991). He has an
>interesting explanation of the subjunctive mood that I do not remember
>seeing in NT studies (I wonder if it may not come from Latin grammar [of
>which I know nothing]?)
>"The primarily used in the classical languages to indicate
>the subordination of one verb to another, and has no clearly defined
>'attitudinal' characterization." (p. 67)
>This differs from NT grammars which usually describe it as expressing
>potentiality, uncertainity, etc. It is obviously true in that subjunctives
>appear in subordinate clauses, but is this all that it means? Any thoughts?

Rod, given the qualifying adverb "primarily" in the sentence you cited, I
think it is basically true. While it is true that the "hortatory" or
"jussive" usage (which some would distinguish, although I've never been
clear as to why they do--"volitive" is probably a better word) is
fundamentally independent, there's some doubt whether clauses of fear ever
were independent.

The seminar on Comparative Greek and Latin Grammar that a colleague and I
taught last semester spent a lot of time on this question. What we came to
believe to be the case is that (a) the Latin subjunctive really derives
from the PIE optative and that it has become by late Republican and early
Imperial eras a subordination-marker in Latin, and that (b) the Greek
optative came to have much the same function as a subordination marker--and
when it gave way to the subjunctive in the Hellenistic era, the subjunctive
itself became essentially a subordination marker. I don't know that I would
want to spell this out as a demonstrable fact, but I think it would be
worth further investigation and may very well be true.

One very interesting point about the Koine subjunctive is that hINA +
subjunctive expands to include all sorts of noun clauses in addition to its
original distinctly "final-clause" function. And as I've noted before, the
modern Greek infinitive is simply NA + subjunctive--which means that the
infinitive is conjugated for person and number!

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

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