Month: October 2008

Counterfactuals

If counterfactuals need to be expressed differently from other types of conditionals, then there should be a grammatical device for doing so, e.g. the subjunctive in Spanish, the conditionnel in French, and the backward-shifted use of tense in English. Although in grammar books of English, there is always a category of subjunctive mood, it is actually not a separate paradigm of conjugation at all. The so-called English subjunctive is different from the real subjunctive in many other languages where the conjugation takes a different form from other verb forms.

So I’ve read that in Danish and Dutch there isn’t a subjunctive mood. I wonder how they express the counterfactuals in Danish and Dutch. Are there any grammatical devices reserved especially for the counterfactual conditional in these two languages? Is it possible that they just don’t distinguish between the counterfactual conditional and other types of conditionals? They are all conditionals. Whether it is a counterfactual conditional or a plain conditional could be indicated by context, choice of words and maybe even intonation.

But then if there is no grammatical device specifically related to the counterfactual in many languages, is it necessary to categorically distinguish the counterfactual from other types of conditionals?