restricted access 1 Introduction
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1 Introduction 1.1 What Are Subjunctive Conditionals? The scope of this book is what I will refer to as subjunctive conditionals. The term subjunctive conditionals has often been used in the philosophical and linguistic literature on English conditional sentences to refer to conditional sentences that have special tense or mood morphology in one or both of their clauses and that have an “irrealis flavor.” The contrast in (1) exemplifies these two features of subjunctive conditionals. (1) a. If John dies tomorrow, Mary will inherit a fortune. b. If John died tomorrow, Mary would inherit a fortune. The indicative conditional in (1a) shows present tense on the main verb in the antecedent clause (die), and will in the consequent clause. On the other hand, the subjunctive conditional in (1b) shows unexpected past tense on the main verb in the antecedent clause (died), and the consequent clause has the modal form would, which has been claimed by several authors (see, e.g., Abusch 1988, Ogihara 1989) to be the past counterpart of will. Note that I use the traditional term subjunctive to refer to conditionals like (1b) even though there isn’t anything clearly subjunctive about the verbal morphology in its clauses. In some languages, we might actually see subjunctive conditionals marked with the subjunctive mood, but even languages that have a subjunctive mood might not employ it in so-called subjunctive conditionals, as Iatridou’s (2000) shows is the case in French. Therefore, by labeling a conditional “subjunctive,” I indicate the presence of temporal morphology that is not interpreted as locating the eventuality described in the antecedent clause in time. This is shown clearly in (1b), where the past tense died occurs in the same clause as the future adverb tomorrow: since an event cannot be both past and future relative to the utterance time, and since we interpret the antecedent in (1b) as supposing 2 Chapter 1 that an eventuality of John’s dying will occur tomorrow, the past tense died, if interpreted at all, cannot be interpreted within the antecedent itself. This book focuses primarily on English subjunctive conditionals.1 I will call conditionals that show this apparently “nontemporal” past tense morphology in the antecedent and consequent clauses subjunctive conditionals, and conditionals that do not show this “nontemporal” tense morphology indicative conditionals.2 As mentioned above, subjunctive conditionals are often said to have (various degrees of) irrealis flavor. The intuition is that the antecedent in (1b) expresses a proposition that the speaker does not judge to be very likely.3 The contrast between indicative and subjunctive conditionals becomes even more obvious when we consider conditional sentences about the past. The pair in (2) is a well-known illustration of this contrast modeled after Adams 1970.4 (2) a. If Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy, someone else did. b. If Oswald hadn’t killed Kennedy, someone else would have. The intuition here is that, given what we know (i.e., that Kennedy was assassinated ), (2a) is true but (2b) is false. The conditional in (2b) is a particular type of subjunctive conditional: a counterfactual conditional, whose antecedent is false in the actual world. The vast majority of counterfactual conditionals are subjunctive conditionals. There are some well-known exceptions, such as the conditional in (3). (3) If you are Santa Claus, I am the Easter Bunny. I am not the Easter Bunny, and we both know that. Therefore, since I am assuming that you accept the truth of (3), you will conclude that you are not Santa Claus. An analysis of indicative conditionals like (3) is beyond the reach of this book, but notice that the rhetorical effect of uttering (3) depends on using the indicative mood—and indeed it disappears if (3) is replaced by its subjunctive counterpart in (4).5 (4) If you were Santa Claus, I would be the Easter Bunny. Since this book focuses on subjunctive conditionals, I will not investigate the semantics of sentences like (3). Throughout this book, the term counterfactuals refers only to subjunctive conditionals whose antecedents are false. The main question that any theory of conditionals asks is this: when interpreting a conditional, how are we going to select the relevant set of worlds about which we are making a claim? As I will show in the rest of this chapter by reviewing the work of Lewis, Stalnaker, Kratzer, and others, some measure of similarity is crucial in selecting the right set of worlds in which the antecedent Introduction 3 is true...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • Grammar, Comparative and general -- Conditionals.
  • Grammar, Comparative and general -- Subjunctive.
  • Modality (Linguistics).
  • Semantics.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access