The widgets above contain 30 second snippets of Je t’emmène au vent by both Feet Peals (2008) and Louise Attaque (1997).
This rampant song was translated back in April. I am going to use some of the lyrics for my first attempt at explaining something about the French language that bothers a lot of native English speakers – the subjunctive.
This is certainly not a lesson – I’m not qualified for that. The intention here is to show that the subjunctive is not such a bizarre concept for native English speakers as we may believe. The hope is that this may help anyone learning French to get a handle on a subject which sometimes twists brains.
There really is very little need to care about the English subjunctive in order to get by in the English language and there are very few situations where failing to use it would make you sound foolish except to the most pedantic of ears. Indeed, live long enough and it may be those pedantic ears themselves who find themselves in the wrong.
In French however, failing to use the subjunctive sticks out like a pig in a disco.
Let’s start with a lyric from the song:
The French subjunctive, the English evasion!
As this example demonstrates, we English speakers are usually able to find a way to use the infinitive in places where a French speaker is lead
kicking and screaming wistfully into the subjunctive.
Here is the translation of the lyric using the same grammatical structure as the original and showing how the subjunctive would replace the indicative.
Do check out April’s post on this song – you should find subjunctive examples of ramener, emener, prendre and être. You lucky thing.
Although it is rare for an English speaker to start a sentence with I would like that… as in the example above, it’s not so uncommon to begin a sentence with I would prefer that… which also prepares the sentence for the subjunctive.
In an effort to find an English language song containing an example of the subjunctive, and therefore to maintain the integrity of the title of this post, I searched the web for lyrics containing the phrase “I would prefer that”. Although it took a while to get to any lyrics, I did find that the English subjunctive is alive and well all over the first two pages of Google results.
On the comments for a YouTube mickey-take of a Britney Spears video, the indicative “takes” would be equally valid, but this person has chosen the gentler-sounding subjunctive:
Sometimes a band writes their own lyrics but in order to express her desire for it, this person has used the subjunctive:
So did I find any English using the subjunctive. Oh yes, but I’d prefer it if I start with an easy one and open up the floor to you guys to suggest some more via the comments box.
It’s possible that the majority of English speakers these days would say instead “If I was a boy”. It would be without ambiguity so given time may become to be considered the more correct way of expressing this thought (if we’re not all speaking Chinese before that happens.)
Even when used “correctly”, there are vastly many more situations in English than there are in French where the subjunctive is identical to its indicative replacement. This surely, and I’m aware that I’m stretching the very limit of my qualifications to comment on this subject, explains why the use of the subjunctive is in decline in English but thrives in French.
I could provide more example lyrics myself but I would prefer that the reader find examples and let me know.