I have been learning Italian for the past 3 years at a community Italian cultural institute and have met some wonderful people and have become a member of a fantastic international culinary ‘Accademia.’ It has been a lot of fun and I heartily recommend learning another language. This summer I will try the patience of some Italians with my new found language skills on a solo trip to Italy! Stay tuned. But the challenging thing about studying Italian is learning all of the different conjugations of the same verb based on actions in the past, ongoing past, past before the past, present, future, conditional, etc. and then learning how to use them correctly. It can be tricky. There are A LOT of conjugations of the same verb and don’t even get me started on the irregular verbs! Lately we have been learning the subjunctive mood. It turns out there is a whole other set of conjugations (kind of like a parallel universe) for when you inject doubt, beliefs or thoughts into a topic. It turns out that whenever I say, “I think that…’ I need to conjugate the verbs entirely differently than I had been doing before I learned the subjunctive.
Here’s another thing about the subjunctive…it’s super challenging because in your head you have to think quickly to switch verb conjugations when you are talking about doubt, uncertainty, hope, fear, possibility, and opinions. The use of this mood is actually on the decline in Italy because it is so difficult and forces people to think about what they are saying and then change the verb based on whether they are talking about actual facts or something other than that. And therein was the light bulb moment for me.
The subjunctive is hardly used at all in English and is disappearing in countries where it has been in use historically. Why? Because opinions are metamorphosing, more and more, into being perceived as facts; if you say it you believe it therefore it is. Look at how many interviews you watch where someone just says an opinion on-air and an actual journalist does not challenge their view! OMG! We have entire TV news and radio stations now banking big money on never using the subjunctive in their endless or speculative opinion pieces.
And here is the important thing: hearing a verb conjugated in the subjunctive alerts you to the fact that the speaker is not talking facts anymore. That’s important actually. This matters and it should matter more in a world where the gatekeepers of public discourse are disappearing. Opinions are not facts and the subjunctive helps you make that distinction. If I were an expert in something, I would still have to use the subjunctive if my opinion had been expressed. (English subjunctive, btw.) I think about this much more often now when I speak and am more aware of the line between what is actually fact based and all that is not. We should think about this as we speak and we should listen carefully to whom we choose to believe.