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15.5: Subjunctive mood as a marker of intensionality

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    138709
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    In some languages, intensional contexts may require special grammatical marking. A number of European languages (among others) use subjunctive mood for this purpose. Let us note from the very beginning that the distribution of the subjunctive is a very complex topic, and that there can be significant differences in this regard even between closely related dialects.6 It is very unlikely that all uses of subjunctive mood in any particular language can be explained on the basis of intensionality alone. But it is clear that intensionality is one of the factors which determine the use of the subjunctive.

    Consider the Spanish sentences in (32), which are discussed by Partee (2008).7 Partee states that neither sentence is ambiguous in the way that the English translations are. The relative clause in indicative mood (32a) can only refer to a specific individual, whereas the relative clause in subjunctive mood (32b) can only have a non-specific interpretation.

    (32) a. María busca a un profesor que enseñ-a griego.

    Maria looks.for to a professor who teaches-ind Greek.

    ‘Maria is looking for a professor who teaches Greek.’ [de re]

    b. María busca (a) un profesor que enseñ-e griego.

    Maria looks.for to a professor who teaches-sbjv Greek

    ‘Maria is looking for a professor who teaches Greek.’ [de dicto]

    A similar pattern is found in relative clauses in modern Greek. The marker for subjunctive mood in modern Greek is the particle na. Giannakidou (2011) says that the indicative relative clause in (33a) can only refer to a specific individual, whereas the subjunctive relative clause in (33b) can only have a non-specific interpretation.

    (33) a. Theloume na proslavoume mia gramatea [pu gnorizi kala japonezika.]

    want.1pl sbjv hire.1pl a secretary rel know.3sg good Japanese.

    ‘We want to hire a secretary that has good knowledge of Japanese.’
    (Her name is Jane Smith.) [de re]

    b. Theloume na proslavoume mia gramatea [pu na gnorizi kala japonezika.]

    want.1pl sbjv hire.1pl a secretary rel sbjv know.3sg good Japanese.

    ‘We want to hire a secretary that has good knowledge of Japanese.’
    (But it is hard to find one, and we are not sure if we will be successful.) [de dicto]

    Giannakidou states that because of this restriction, a definite NP cannot contain a subjunctive relative clause (34). Also, the object of a verb of creation with future time reference cannot contain an indicative relative clause, because it refers to something that does not exist at the time of speaking (34).

    (34) I Roxani theli na pandrefti {enan/*ton} andra [pu na exi pola lefta].

    the R. want.3sg sbjv marry.3sg {a/*the} man rel sbjv have much money

    ‘Roxanne wants to marry a/*the man who has a lot of money.’

    (35) Prepi na grapso mia ergasia [pu *(na)8 ine pano apo 15 selidhes.]

    must.3sg sbjv write.1sg an essay rel sbjv is more than 15 pages

    ‘I have to write an essay longer than 15 pages.’

    The pattern that emerges from these and other examples is that subjunctive mood is used when the noun phrase containing the relative clause refers to a property rather than to a specific individual.


    6 See for example Marques (2004).

    7 This contrast is also discussed by Quine (1956) and a number of subsequent authors.

    8 This notation indicates that the subjunctive marker is obligatory; that is, the sentence is ungrammatical without the subjunctive marker.


    This page titled 15.5: Subjunctive mood as a marker of intensionality is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Paul Kroeger (Language Library Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.