Monthly Archives: July 2009

Next Monthly Lunch Meeting

The next session of the Monthly Lunch Meetings will start in September. They are tentatively scheduled for Friday the 25th of September, October 30th, November 27th, and December 18th. More information will follow shortly on the speakers and location.

Benjamin Franklin’s subjunctive/indicative confusion

While I was looking at the use of the subjunctive in letters by Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestly for a paper for the conference Patriotism(e) & Prescriptivism(e) in Toronto, this August, I came across the following. In the second edition of his Rudiments of English Grammar Priestley discusses the decline of the subjunctive in favour of the indicative:

This conjunctive form of verbs, though our forefathers paid a pretty strict regard to it, is much neglected by many of our best writers […] So little is this form of verbs attended to, that few writers are quite uniform in their own practice with respect to it. We even, sometimes, find both the forms of a verb in the same sentence, and in the same construction (Priestley 1768: 119-120)

I found precisely this in one of Benjamin Franklin’s letters, where he uses both the indicative and the inflectional subjunctive forms with two verbs which refer to the same subject, combined by a coordinating conjunction.

Mr. Joseph Crellius is gone to Holland and I suppose may call at London before he returns, and settle his Daughter’s Affair [emphasis mine] (letter to William Strahan, 6 December 1750 – American Philosophical Society)

Was Franklin really confused here? Or, as this is the only instance of this I have found, is it a transcription error? The letter is available on the website The Papers of Benjamin Franklin


Correction to OED’s entry for “government”

The grammatical term “government”, according to the OED, was first found as a lemma in Johnson’s dictionary, where it is defined as “influence with regard to construction”. It is next recorded as being first used by Lowth in a nineteenth-century reprint of the grammar, published in 1838. The quotation in question, “Adverbs have no Government”, is, however, also found in the first edition (1762:126), so the reference in the OED may be simplified accordingly.