No grammatical person can take a conjugated verb
Posted Friday, May 4 2012 at 20:00
Moods are not tenses. Yes – in Algernon Swinburne poetry — tenses are “triangular”. For, basically, time has only the three “angles” called “past”, “present” and “future”. But, in Kenya, even people who call themselves communicators have never heard of grammatical “moods”.
Thus, when, on April 27, the Standard reported that “…Former finance PS wrote to (a) Fund recommending that it deposits Sh3,000 million into the project…” , the newspaper must have mystified very many readers.
For, in that statement, the verb “deposits” (with an “s” at the end) reveals that the sub-editor who wrote that blurb and the revise editor who passed it have never heard of a grammatical mood called subjunctive. They have been taught that, in English, a verb takes an “s” whenever it is governed by a third person singular noun or pronoun (“he”, “she” or “it”).
That is where the pitfall lies. For that rule refers only to the simple present. To be sure, “it” (the fund) is a singular third person. But, in this construction, it is not acting in the simple present.
Indeed, this third person is not acting in any one of the three tenses. Nay, “he”, “she”, “it” is not even acting.
For, in this context, “to deposit” is only a recommendation. It is not a guaranteed action because it belongs only to the future. Since the writer is not certain that this recommendation will be implemented, he cannot use a conjugated verb. In other words, his verb must remain in the infinitive.
An infinitive is any verb which has not been conjugated — that is, before any person (first, second or third), any number (singular or plural) and any tense (present, past or future) has been assigned to it.
One Ararat on which the learner can stand is that all English infinitives are preceded by the preposition “to” – as in “to deposit”.
Thus, in any construction where the verbal action is not yet real — but is merely commanded or recommended – no grammatical person can take a conjugated verb. Even the third person singular can take only the infinitive (minus the preposition “to”).
It is called infinitive because — not being tied to any person, number or tense — it is like Gamov’s Ylem (in the Big Bang theory of astrophysics). An infinitive is a verb which contains an infinite amount of (grammatical) energy.
That, too, is why it is a “mood”. A mood indicates whether the verb is a fact or a command or merely a wish.
The indicative mood expresses real action (“President Kibaki reshuffled his cabinet”). The imperative mood expresses an order (“reshuffle your cabinet tomorrow”). The subjunctive mood expresses only wishful thinking (“They demanded that the President reshuffle his cabinet”).
The subjunctive, then, has no definite conjugational value. In “The President ordered that the minister go to Sudan”, the minister is, indeed, a third person singular.
Yet he takes the subjunctive “go” — not the simple present “goes” — because the action is merely ordered — not yet a certainty.