I thought he is/was
Posted: 01 April 2018 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Someone has just found out that someone else is Belgian.

They say,

1. “Huh. I thought he was French.”

Or they say,

2. “Huh. I thought he’s French.”

I’d say the former. I believe that’s the subjunctive, right?

I’ve sometimes heard sentences like the latter, though. It sounds slightly wrong to me but I’m unable to articulate quite why it is wrong.

What do you reckon? Is 2. “widely accepted” or “criticised by scholars”?

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Posted: 01 April 2018 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Neither of these are subjunctive. One giveaway is that the form for the past subjunctive in English is were, as in if it were the case. As in all things grammatical, the subjunctive relates to the forms words take, not the way they are used. The phrase if it were the case is subjunctive; the phrase if it was the case is not. Nor does the situation call for the subjunctive. The speaker isn’t stating something conditional or contrary to fact, but rather acknowledging an error, which calls for the indicative.

The problem with number two is that the past tense is required as its a state (i.e., thinking he was French) that existed in the past, so was is required. But the contraction he’s is short for either he is or he has, it can’t be used for he was. (There’s no logical reason it couldn’t be used for he was, but it just isn’t.)

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