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Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

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Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby justerman » Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:57 pm

I've been thinking about noun clauses with accedo.

If I write a simple declarative sentence, such as
Luna plena erat,

I must use the indicative mood. But if, for some reason, I say the same thing using a different construct, such as
Accidit ut luna plena esset, (an example from Allen & Greenough)
I must use the subjunctive.

Has anyone got a satisfactory explanation for this?

Allen & Greenough is not alone in classing the noun clause
luna plena esset
as a “substantive clause of result”, but that doesn't seem satisfactory to me. It is not the result of anything. The clause is the subject of the main verb, merely displaced by an “anticipatory” it.
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Re: Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby bedwere » Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:40 pm

I think I remember I was taught in school that if the subordinate cannot be removed without totally altering the sense, it must be in the subjunctive, following the rule of the consecutio temporum.
The subjunctive is more elegant, according to some.
Maybe the plebeians would use the indicative and the patricians the subjunctive. :D
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Re: Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby Seraphinus » Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:44 pm

Unlike English, which has almost completely lost the subjunctive it once had (especially in dialects spoken in the UK), Latin distinguishes it. Prototypically (i.e. most typically, in essence), the indicative expresses facts and the subjunctive expresses events that are or were hypothetical at some point. But then the language is seen allocating the subjunctive and the indicative to uses beyond these typical ones at seemingly random fashion. Latin, Spanish and French distinguish an indicative and subjunctive moods, but there's many differences between them on how they do it. For example, let's look at the typical subordinating conjunctions that mean 'after'. Spanish después (de) que takes the subjunctive if it's a future action and the indicative if it's a past action (at least in the standard and in most dialects, any Argentinians in the forum are free to disagree). Latin postquam typically takes the indicative, but now and then can be seen before a subjunctive (post accidisset quam dedissem, Cic. Ad Att. VI.3). Many French speakers (especially editors) insist that après que takes the indicative, but in spoken language it very commonly takes the subjunctive instead.

Bottom line: I don't think you should try to find real "explanations" for uses of the indicative and subjunctive, but just learn them?

Maybe the plebeians would use the indicative and the patricians the subjunctive. :D
Considering that both the indicative and the subjunctive survived in about every Romance language (even Sardinian, the one Romance language that got rid of almost all tenses), I'd disagree.
Last edited by Seraphinus on Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
ēlūcet mâiōrem habēre vim ad discenda ista līberam cūriōsitātem quam meticulōsam necessitātem
It is clear that a free curiosity has a greater force in order to learn these things [languages] than a necessity based on fear. (St. Augustine, Cōnfessiōnēs I.14)
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Re: Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby Qimmik » Sun Nov 17, 2013 2:50 pm

Accido, from ad+cado, not accedo from ad+cedo.


"Result" is just a label that grammarians have placed on this type of construction, as a convenient way to group subordinate clauses with ut + subjunctive and ut non (not ne) + subjunctive in the negative.

Don't expect to find logic in Latin or any other language. The corpus of classical Latin texts typically (I'm not prepared to say "always") uses the subjunctive in this construction, but there's no "logical" reason for using the subjunctive here. Greek uses the indicative in some types of "result" clauses and the infinitive in others, where Latin would use the subjunctive, and in this specific expression, "it happened that," Greek would use a construction with a participle.
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Re: Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby justerman » Sat Nov 23, 2013 3:05 pm

Thank you all for responding. I couldn't think of a satisfactory explanation myself and your responses seem to confirm that I haven't overlooked anything obvious.

Seraphinus, I think your distinction between “prototypical” or core function and wider usage is useful. The development of that wider usage won't have been random and, in my example, it's tempting to think that, simply through frequent association, “ut” often came to be more generally associated with the subjunctive.

I don't think you should try to find real explanations

For me, part of the attraction of studying a language is considering what the constructions tell us about how the speakers thought. That's especially so with Latin, given its low utility. For example, in Caesar's Gallic Wars (6-13) there's

“neque honos ullus communicatur”

If we accept that a core meaning of communico is to share, and that Caesar chose his words with some care, should one conclude that honos was something shared?
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Re: Accidit ut luna plena esset: why subjunctive?

Postby Godmy » Sun Nov 24, 2013 1:58 pm

The presence of the subjunctive is mere sense of subordination (and when I say "sense", I mean that you can litteraly feel it).
The statement expresses a fact - it is a cryptoindicative (indicative hidden behind the subjunctive), but subordinated.

If you want to feel it, it's the same feeling as "servus"(as "indicative") as opposed to "servum"(as "subjunctive") but done "in a way" with a whole clause instead of a noun (the analogy is not 1:1 with this clause, but it has some common elements one can feel in his mind). The clause loses in a sense its activity (its independence as opposed to a statement said in the main clause independently) because it became a "dependent" member of something higher (as "servum").
But in the meaning it's indicative: no hypothesis... no potentiality. (that depends of course how would you psycho-linguistically define these terms: potentiality, hypothesis, irreality...)

The subjunctive is there merely as to make the statement in terms of hierarchy "dependent/passive" to some hyperstatement (=something you can also feel in your "mind", but it takes some time to bring it on your conscious level).

So as you can see, there is quite clear logic why there is subjunctive... it's just unexpected. If you use in your language indicative here, then believe you express mentally absolutely the same what they express: you express a fact and deep in beyond your conscious thinking you make the statement dependent (kind of "passive")... so you could say that in your native language this statement is always a cryptosubjunctive and in Latin it is always a cryptoindicative. (and in the lowest level they are the same in both languages: a subordinated fact)

If you wanted to dissect what the "ut" means in this case (for a Roman): it is simple that with the etymology probably similar to the adverbial "ut" (..."as"): kind of "as" that defines/describes in the following clause what came before. In this case "ID" syntactically came before (id accidit). But that's only a probable etymological meaning... it gradually shifts (and shifted) itself to simple "that". All "that" (quod/que...) in all languages have similar etymologies.
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