Il congiuntivo: Peeving and breeding, Italian style

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As a counterpoint to "Peeving and breeding", 3/4/2018, here's Lorenzo Baglioni's "Il Congiuntivo":

The problematic message:

Se io starei
con te
sarei
felice

which is intended to mean

If I were
with you
I would be
happy

In the comments, Paolo explains (and .mau. further corrects) that it should be

se io stessi [imperfect subjunctive, stare] con te
sarei [present conditional, essere] felice

And the final redemptive sequence:

In the comments, Laura explains that "Women rejecting men who are unable to use the subjunctive correctly is a running meme in Italy."

The lyrics are available from Genius:

Che io sia
Che io fossi
Che io sia stato
Ouooh

[Strofa 1]
Oggigiorno chi corteggia incontra sempre più difficoltà
Coi verbi al congiuntivo
Quindi è tempo di riaprire il manuale di grammatica, che è
Che è molto educativo
Gerundio, imperativo
Infinito, indicativo
Molti tempi e molte coniugazioni, ma

[Ritornello]
Il congiuntivo ha un ruolo distintivo
E si usa per eventi che non sono reali
È relativo a ciò che è soggettivo
A differenza di altri modi verbali
E adesso che lo sai anche tu
Non lo sbagli più

[Strofa 2]
Nel caso che il periodo sia della tipologia dell'irrealtà (si sa)
Ci vuole il congiuntivo
Tipo "Se tu avessi usato il congiuntivo trapassato
Con lei non sarebbe andata poi male"
Condizionale…
Segui la consecutio temporum

In my feeble attempt at an English translation:

That I am [present subjunctive]
That I was [past subjunctive]
That I have been [perfect subjunctive]

[Verse 1]
Nowadays those who are courting encounter more and more difficulties
With verbs in the subjunctive
So it's time to reopen the grammar manual, which is
Which is very educational
Gerund, imperative
Infinitive, indicative
Many tenses and many conjugations, but

[Refrain]
The subjunctive has a distinctive role
And it is used for events that are not real
It is related to what is subjective
Unlike other verbal moods
And now you know it too
You're not getting it wrong anymore

[Verse 2]
In case the sentence is of the type of unreality (one knows)
It takes the subjunctive
Like "If you had used the past subjunctive
With her it would not have gone bad"
Conditional…
Follow the sequence of tenses

 

[h/t Joaquim Roé]

 



29 Comments

  1. Paolo said,

    March 18, 2018 @ 8:11 pm

    The statement "but sarei is first singular present conditional, whereas it should be subjunctive sia" is inaccurate. In this case, sarei is correct, starei is wrong.
    The correct sentence should be:
    se io stessi[past subjunctive, stare] con te sarei [present conditional, essere] felice

    [(myl) Oops. Fixed now.]

  2. Paolo said,

    March 18, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

    oops, statement!

  3. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    March 18, 2018 @ 8:21 pm

    So he wrote the equivalent of "If I would be with you, I would be happy" instead of "If I were with you, I would be happy"?

  4. .mau. said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 1:21 am

    actually, "stessi" is imperfect subjunctive (in Italian there are four forms of subjunctive: present, imperfect, past and past perfect).
    It's not easy to render the difference in English, but I would try with "*if I be with you, I would be happy".

  5. Laura said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 1:56 am

    Italian translation: the guy meant to say if we were an item, I would be happy but he came up with if we would be an item, I would be happy, which sounds very uneducated to Italian ears.
    Women rejecting men who are unable to use the subjunctive correctly is a running meme in Italy.

  6. Jonathan Silk said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 4:46 am

    Exposing my ignorance, but, the picture on the face of which she traces a tear, must be that of a [famous] … grammarian?

  7. Quim said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 6:12 am

    @Jonathan Silk: he is Dante Alighieri.

  8. Thomas Rees said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 6:16 am

    It's Botticelli's portrait of Dante (not the Brazilian footballer)

  9. Tom S. Fox said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 6:45 am

    It's strange how Italians always insist that the subjunctive mood "isn't really used anymore," along with the preterite, even though listening to Italians should quickly disabuse you of that notion. It's a bizarre mass delusion.

    Just to make my point, I went through a YouTube video and counted all the subjunctives and preterites:

    SUBJUNCTIVES

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=2m9s
    Questo, se ci crediate o no, è Birdemic 2.
    This, believe it or not, is Birdemic 2.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=3m10s
    Sono contento che il signor Nguyen abbia tenuto la stessa qualità audio del predecessore. Non sia mai che poi il secondo è più bello del primo …
    I'm glad Mr. Nguyen retained the sound quality of the previous film. Can't have the second be better than the first.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=5m43s
    Non sembra siano in auto per davvero.
    It doesn't look like they are really driving.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=6m13s
    Avete qualcuno vicino a voi che vi possa assistere in caso di mancamento?
    Is someone around who can assist you in case you faint?

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=7m55s
    Come se non fosse successo assolutamente nulla …
    As if absolutely nothing had happened…

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=8m47s
    Non credo sia la cosa migliore da fa—
    I don't think that's the best thing to d—

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=10m29s
    Non ho idea di cosa stia facendo, ma lo sto facendo male.
    I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm doing it badly.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=14m30s
    Solo per confermare che quello che ho visto oggi sia reale.
    Just to confirm that what I saw today is real.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=15m42s
    … quasi come se la causa di tutto questo fosse lui.
    …almost as if he was the cause of all this.

    PRETERITES

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=1m6s
    Sì, non ho mai capito il successo che ebbe quel video lì.
    Yeah, I never understood the success that video had.

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=1m17s
    Ma nonostante tutto, ebbe un buon successo …
    But despite everything, it was a big hit…

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=1m27s
    Quando venni a sapere che ci sarebbe stato un Birdemic 2, ho detto: "Perché?"
    When I found out there was going to be a Birdemic 2, I said, "Why?"

    https://youtu.be/ybYUBclGP8E?t=8m56s
    E il prof spiega che nella preistoria due uomini primitivi vennero attaccati da uno stormo di aquile e morirono proprio qui …
    And the professor explains that, in prehistory, two primitive men were attacked by a flock of eagles and died right here…

  10. Tom S. Fox said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 6:58 am

    @Jonathan Silk, Quim, and Thomas Rees: The funny thing is that not even Dante always used the subjunctive mood where standard grammar would require it:

    "credo che s'era in ginocchie levata."
    "I think that it had risen on to its knees."

    (It should be, "credo che si fosse in ginocchie levata.")

  11. Tom S. Fox said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    I just noticed a mistake in my first comment. It should be, "che ci credete o no."

  12. Tom S. Fox said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 9:04 am

    *crediate

  13. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 9:27 am

    Spanish uses the subjunctive somewhat differently from Italian (for example, creer que takes the indicative, while cuando takes the subjunctive when referring to the future), but in my experience native Spanish-speakers never make any mistakes with it. Now, some Hispano-Americans (especially Mexicans) use it after no saber si, which rubs Spaniards the wrong way, but that's just a regional difference.

  14. JJM said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

    "It's strange how Italians always insist that the subjunctive mood 'isn't really used anymore,' along with the preterite, even though listening to Italians should quickly disabuse you of that notion. It's a bizarre mass delusion."

    It's a similar situation in French. I think the reason is that speakers use the subjunctive so unconsciously that they don't even realize it's there (which is exactly how native speakers are supposed to use their own language).

  15. .mau. said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

    @Tom S. Fox: subjunctive is still used (well, past perfect subjunctive is quite rare :-) ). Sometimes it is swapped with conditional and other times indicative is used instead, but people still hear those forms as an error.

    As for preterite, sometimes I still use it even in informal speech, but it may be seen more in formal prose.

    (I am not a linguist, but the indicative in the verse of Dante you quoted might mean that the poet is sure that the shadow raised on its knees)

  16. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 4:38 pm

    This guy used the same tense for both verbs. Maybe he is an Esperantist!

    In Esperanto there is no subjunctive. In a sentence of the sort "If I were with you, I would be happy", the conditional ending -us functions for both verbs, so for the past subjunctive as well as for the conditional: "Se mi estus kun vi, mi estus feliĉa."

    There is also no subjunctive in Interlingua, the regularised Romance language. In that language the strategy is to use the past indicative where we'd expect the past subjunctive: "Si io era con te, io serea felice".

    Anyway, this celebration of the subjunctive is wonderful.

  17. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

    There is a parallel in Am. Eng. colloquial where "would" can appear in both clauses of conditionals concerning past hypotheticals (e.g., If he would've… I would've…), I think discussed on LL before. Actually this may not be restricted to past time in the ultra-colloquial. Not sure why the tendency to duplicate the conditional tense or construction from apodosis to protasis…

  18. Ray said,

    March 19, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

    dat guy with the glasses, tho. NAILED IT.

  19. cliff arroyo said,

    March 20, 2018 @ 4:59 am

    "In Esperanto there is no subjunctive."

    Yes there is, at least in some descriptions, the form is the same as the imperative but it's used differently. So you could say that it exists syntactically if not morphologically.

    Mi volas ke li legu tion. (I want him to read that).

  20. cliff arroyo said,

    March 20, 2018 @ 5:17 am

    "in my experience native Spanish-speakers never make any mistakes with it"

    Maybe the fact that in Spanish subjunctive forms are never identical to indicative forms? In Italian (present subjunctive at least) and even more so in French indicative and subjunctive forms aren't different.

    imperative, subjunctive and subjunctive forms have some interesting distributions

    Spanish – the three are mostly distinct (some imperative and subjunctive forms are shared but overall distinct)

    Hungarian – the imperative and subjunctive are mostly merged (there's a syntactic difference or two) and the conditional is different

    Polish – imperative forms are unique while one form does duty for the subjunctive and conditional.

  21. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    March 20, 2018 @ 10:34 am

    Cliff Arroyo – Excellent point about the subjunctive in Esperanto! "Mi volas ke li legu tion" is indeed an example of the subjunctive.

    What's more, the subjunctive is present in every imperative sentence, as every such sentence can be thought of as a truncated version of "Mi volas ke vi…": "Venu tien ĉi" = "(Mi volas ke vi) venu tien ĉi".

    More evidence that the Esperanto imperative has a subjunctive function is the fact that it can be used in the first person singular: "Mi menciu ke…", with the meaning "Let me mention that…"

    So, while the role of the past subjunctive is fulfilled by the conditional, the role of the present subjunctive is fulfilled by the imperative.

  22. Alex said,

    March 22, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

    I have to disagree with the idea that native Spanish speakers never use the subjunctive incorrectly — as a student of Spanish living in South America, misuses of the subjunctive bothered me constantly, as did the omnipresent second-person preterite -stes. Elision of the subjunctive is quite common both in the present ("llámame cuando estás en casa") and imperfect ("si lo habría sabido, se lo habría hecho") tenses.

  23. David Marjanović said,

    March 23, 2018 @ 6:19 am

    It's strange how Italians always insist that the subjunctive mood "isn't really used anymore," along with the preterite, even though listening to Italians should quickly disabuse you of that notion. It's a bizarre mass delusion.

    Could that be regional?

    In French, the subjunctive is even expanding. Après que used to be an exception to the general tendency of using the subjunctive after que, but that's dying out, or so I hear.

    There is a parallel in Am. Eng. colloquial where "would" can appear in both clauses of conditionals concerning past hypotheticals (e.g., If he would've… I would've…), I think discussed on LL before. Actually this may not be restricted to past time in the ultra-colloquial. Not sure why the tendency to duplicate the conditional tense or construction from apodosis to protasis…

    German substrate? Wenn ich bei dir wäre, wäre ich glücklich… "past subjunctive" (Konjunktiv II) both times. Likewise your example, which would be wenn er … hätte, (dann) hätte ich….

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    March 23, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

    The correct English version – 'if I were with you, I would be happy', has a subjunctive in the first clause and 'would', a substitute for it, in the second. I suppose that at some stage of English before the full developement of the modals the equivalent of 'were … were' would have been grammatical, as in German. Using 'would' in both clauses is just a regularisation that presumably will prevail eventually. The subjunctive in English can't be called dead, but people just don't realise when they use it because it doesn't have distinct forms except 'I/he/she/it were', which are sometimes noticed.

    (How do you actually create bold and italics? The obvious tags don't work here …)

    On the original post, the first thing I noticed from those lyrics – besides how odd the premiss was – was that Italian has 'congiuntivo' but 'coniugazione', both grammatical terms, from the same Latin root, and preceded by the same prefix! As far as I can remember, English has such inconsistencies only in spelling, whereas in Italian they actually say the former with /dʒ. and the latter with /j/.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  25. .mau. said,

    March 24, 2018 @ 2:29 am

    @Andrew: usually such changes of spelling happen in Italian because one form (in this case, the one with /dʒ/ ) went through the modification which lead from Latin to Italian, while the other one was a modern coinage from Latin.
    In this case, hovever, coniugazione comes from iugāre and congiuntivo from iŭngĕre. So the different linguistic derivation did happen, but from two different words.

  26. .mau. said,

    March 24, 2018 @ 2:30 am

    (bold and italic are obtained using the HTML tags b and i, btw)

  27. Andrew Usher said,

    March 24, 2018 @ 9:54 pm

    Those tags haven't worked for me before; I'll try them again

    BOLD
    Italic
    Bold italic

    Now for my actual reply: _of course_ iugare and iungere are the same root! That's just the variable nasal infix well-known in IE (cf German verstehen/verstanden – both forms in the same verb).

    Further I think neither could have been a colloquial term capable of independent developement from spoken Latin – technical grammatical term aren't everyday language, and weren't part of most people's vocabulary until recently. I see no real difference between the two. I have to guess that Italian just has had (or maybe still has) two different ways of adopting Latin 'j' – the /dʒ/ form being more suitable to analogy.

  28. Irena Hubble-Brezowski said,

    March 26, 2018 @ 8:00 am

    Good to follow these discussions on the subjunctive ! To explain it I like to use Beyoncé 'If I were a boy' not the more common 'if I was a boy'

  29. Victor Mair said,

    March 30, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

    From Thomas L. Mair, who has been actively learning Italian for about twenty-five years:

    People claim that Italian is easy to learn, but the verbs for to be and to have are real mind-twisters! I never mastered them. While trying to use them I often saw the Italians I spoke with grimace in agony.

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