What is ‘subjunctive’ history?

The subjunctive is a mood within grammar – but I am not going to be writing an article on grammar – at least not for the most part! We use the subjunctive within English – often without realising because we are not aware of it – having not had it pointed out to us specifically. I have come across it most in my studies of French – European languages – particularly the Romantic languages use the subjunctive extensively and it is ‘sign posted’ within both pronunciation and spelling. Anyway, I digress.

Basically, the subjunctive is the mood of possibility –  there is an example within ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol: If I just lay here – this implies doubt or uncertainty about what will happen next.

In relation to history – the subjunctive can be applied to moments in time where chance is a key factor in events taking place – I shall give you a few examples…


  • The appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister: Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the saviour of the UK during the Second World War but the course of events of the war may have taken a very different course if it had not been for a case of bad teeth.

In the running for the appointment of who should be leader of the conservative party directly before the outbreak of WW2, there were two candidates – Churchill and Halifax. Halifax was the favourite to be appointed, but on the day of the in-party leadership vote Halifax had to go to the dentist and was therefore not present to do last minute canvassing – consequently Churchill was appointed; a rather shocking turn of events for much of the public as the naval failure of Gallipoli, for which Churchill was responsible, was still painfully fresh in the minds of many.

  • The roots of apartheid: On how weather and a reef sparked the involvement of Europeans in South Africa.                                                                                                   In 1647 A Dutch ship on a return trip from trading in South East Asia went aground whilst going round the Cape of Good Hope. It was a year before the survivors of this disastrous shipwreck were properly rescued. In the intervening time they managed to get ashore to modern – day South Africa and found it to be bountiful enough to wish to colonise it. Once safely returned to Holland the survivors who had been ashore persuaded the authorities to allow them to return to South Africa and thus the centuries long Dutch, later Boer, and in general, White influence and rumbling and tumultuous conflict in that area began – due to some bad weather and a submerged reef.


  • A rather tactical toilet break: Before he was famous for Mein Kampf and the mass annihilation of the 1930s a young man called Adolf was a opportunist lieutenant in the German Army.

Some time between the air raids and offensives of the German army on the Western Front of the First World War a young lieutenant broke off from a game of cards or some-such and decided to make a dash for the shack that served as a toilet. In the intervening time that it took him to get back to the dugout a shell landed and killed the rest of Lt. Hitler’s comrades. So Napoleons epithet of: ‘An army marches on its stomach’ should maybe be replaced with bowels!


Does anyone else know any ‘subjunctive’ historical events – I’d be interested to hear!




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