Imaginary Conversation (updated) • 5 September 2007 • The SnowBlog
Imaginary Conversation (updated)
Child: I wish I was a teacher
Teacher: That's not correct English. You should say 'were' not 'was'.
Teacher: That's the rule in Standard English. And using Standard English helps us all understand one another more easily.
Child: But everyone says it the way I just did.
Teacher: Not everyone. Some people still use the correct form. The point is that it's easier to communicate if we all follow the rules.
Child: So what's the rule I should be following?
Teacher: Well, in English the subjunctive isn't grammaticalised so you don't inflect the verb to agree with the subject the same way that you do with the indicative mood. Instead we use modal auxiliaries coupled with fixed inflections of the main verb. In the past tense, the non-past plural form is used, whereas in the present the verb is not inflected at all.
Child: Where did you learn that rule?
Teacher: In college.
Child: So only ten more years and I can talk like you just did and then everyone will understand me? I'm not sure I wish I were a teacher anymore.
Thanks to Mark below for contributing such an appealing reminiscence. And without wishing to be too ageist, I'm rather impressed that someone educated in the 30s is commenting on new-fangled Internet-blogs in the, um, well, whatever we end up calling this decade*. I would only quibble with your old English teacher on one point and that is his dislike of 'finish up'. I have some sympathy with the American practice of adding that particular preposition. 'Finish' can seem a bit naked if it doesn't have an object and giving it a preposition to work with does feel a bit more satisfying. 'What did you finish?' 'I finished up'. That sort of appeals to me.
And as for Katherine's comment: now I can't add in the missing period without either deleting your comment or making you seem deluded, neither of which seem very polite, so I'll have to leave my omissions on public display.
*I've said it before, but won't someone please name this and the next decade sooooon. Pleeease!