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Another in the series, How the English are Ruining Our Language.

After posting on this topic today, I happened to look at the Guardian’s web site, where I saw the following headline:

DPD Widow: Earlier rule changes may have saved Don

As I suspected, what the bereaved lady really wrote was that earlier rule changes might have saved her husband.  She actually used the subjunctive:

. . .  if this had happened a few years back I might not have lost him.

What the headline says is that Don Lane may still be alive, saved by earlier rule changes; in which case, one wonders why he hasn’t let his wife know.  I don’t mean to make light of Ms. Lane’s sad loss:  this is a demonstration of how the subjunctive mood can make an important difference in meaning.

What British educators are saying, by teaching students not to use the subjunctive, is that there’s no real difference between what may have happened and what might have happened.  This case shows, rather painfully, that that is not true.

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