“It is long past time that the government stopped subsidizing people who live and build in dangerous flood zones,” declared the headline in the Buckboard Flats Daily Jolt.
“Shouldn't it be, ‘ ... that the government STOP subsidizing?'” asked John Walters, as Buck checked his oil at Curly's Soonerco. “They are using the past tense of the verb ‘stop' when they should be using the present tense.”
Maybe it's past time that English speakers stop using the subjunctive mood. Few people know what it is, and even fewer know when to use it.
The subjunctive mood is a form of the verb used to express a wish, a command, or a situation that is contrary to reality.
The subjunctive mood is often found in “that” clauses expressing desires or imperatives. That's the case in the sentence John cites. The meaning is “ ... that the government should stop subsidizing.” The sentence was actually expressed in the present tense: “It IS long past time,” but the writer shifted to the past tense when coming to the “that” clause. It doesn't make sense that the time is now for the government to do something in the past.
The present subjunctive calls for the bare infinitive form of the verb. English speakers are used to seeing their infinitives with “to” in front of them. The bare infinitive — without the “to” — looks too much like a present-tense verb. So Buck might have given the sentence a more natural sound by writing: “It is long past time for the government to stop subsidizing people ...” Now there's no mistaking the fact that “to stop” is an infinitive, and infinitives do not have tense.
“It's high time you stop drinking,” said the Rev. T. Jubilee Beanblossom.
“I stop drinking every night when the Red Eye Saloon closes,” said Luther.
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