Teaching the Future Subjunctive.

Laurel is a terrific speller. So good, in fact, that when she writes spelling sentences I look them over not for obvious spelling/grammatical errors, but to give her help with the subtleties of the English language (plus, have you read some of her sentences? They’re hilarious!). I am no grammarian, but I do what I can to teach her about sentence agreement and about avoiding prepositions at the end of the sentences. I teach her what Mark Twain said about using the “right word, not its second cousin.”

I tell her if the sentence can do without a ‘that,’ leave it out in the interest of brevity. Once I wrote a paper in college and forgot how many pages it was supposed to be so I just wrote until I was finished. The professor told me it was the shortest paper in the class, but also the best.

And then he chastised me for pursuing a major in agriculture rather than English.

I guess you can’t please all the people all the time.

Anyway, the times I need to say anything at all have become fewer and further between, which thrills me. I want my my children to understand that if you can a) write well and b) speak in public without fainting, people will listen to you, regardless of what you’re saying.

This morning I was reading Laurel’s sentences when I saw the following phrase:

“If I was…”

Skreeee! My brain came to a screeching halt.

I don’t know why that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me, but it does.

So I said to her, “Laurel, this sentence, “If I was…’”

“Oh,” Laurel said, “It should be ‘If I were.’”

“Right! Remember that by thinking, ‘If I were a rich man…’ Do you know that song?”


“I can’t believe you don’t know that song. What kind of cultural vacuum have we foisted upon you kids?”

So I found it on YouTube and demonstrated Reb Tevye’s dance:

If I Were a Rich Man1

And then Laurel got into the act while Vinnie ran for the hills:

If I Were a Rich Man2

And that, friends, is how the future subjunctive is taught in this household.

I’m thinking Laurel won’t forget.

One thought on “Teaching the Future Subjunctive.

  1. Cynthia Schon

    I use lyrics from Broadway musicals as vehicles for grammar lessons at every opportunity! 😉

    I remember impressing my high school English Teacher because he was asking what tense required the change from "was" to "were" after "if", and I knew because we had just been discussing it in Spanish the previous period!

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