Subjunctive by attraction

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In Latin grammar, the subjunctive by attraction (or attracted subjunctive) refers to uses of the subjunctive mood as the result of "attraction" or "assimilation" to another subjunctive or equivalent imperative. The name also applies to subjunctives used when a subordinate clause is "so closely connected with an infinitive as to form an integral part of" it.[1]

Accounting for the subjunctive assimilated or attracted to another subjunctive[edit]

One authority explains the usage as follows:[2]

In complex sentences made up of a main sentence with subjunctive verb and one or more subordinate sentences, the modal feeling in the speaker's mind which expresses itself in the main sentence is, in the nature of things, very likely to continue in the speaker's mind in the subordinated sentence or sentences, either quite unchanged or but slightly shaded. If, for example, I say in Latin, 'Let him send whom he will,' mittat quem velit, the mood in velit is not a case of 'attraction' or 'assimilation' at all. Velit is as much a jussive as mittat is. The meaning is, 'Let him choose his man and send that man.' Again, the frequent recurrence of such examples gives rise to the occasional use of a dependent subjunctive with only a formal likeness to the main subjunctive, and no true modal feeling.

Another authority[who?] contests this reasoning:

I am unable to admit the soundness of this reasoning. To my mind Hale seems to do great violence to the interpretation of the passage above cited. ... I do not believe it legitimate to read into velit the jussive force which Hale attributes to it. Much less can I admit the justice of Frank's statement that Hale's interpretation of the mood of velit is beyond dispute. ... I am, therefore, inclined to believe that in the phenomenon under consideration we are to recognize a purely formal and mechanical attraction. At least I cannot recognize the validity of the evidence offered in support of the origin advocated by Hale and Frank. ... So far as I can see, only the theory of a mechanical attraction will account for the presence of the subjunctive in ... clauses [where the subjunctive occurs in preference to the future indicative].

Conditions under which attraction takes place[edit]

Frank's study shows:

  1. The attracted clause is preferably in the same time-sphere as the clause on which it depends.
  2. Its favorite position is between the introductory conjunction (when such exists) and the verb of the governing clause.
  3. Its verb rarely expresses precise modal and temporal force.
  4. The clause as a whole is rather of the generalizing than of the determinative type.
  5. It is more frequently a temporal than a relative clause.
  6. It is connected with the predicate more frequently than with the subject or object of the sentence.
  7. As a rule, it is an essential clause, and grammatically depends very closely upon the main body of the clause to which it is attracted.

These favoring conditions are met in only about 37% of all the clauses dependent upon subjunctives. When these favoring conditions do not exist, the dependent clause stands in the indicative, unless the clause would regularly stand in the subjunctive for some other reason (purpose, result, etc.).


  1. ^ "Syntax of early Latin, By Charles Edwin Bennett" - 1910
  2. ^ Amer. Jour. Phil, viii, p. 54, Hale -- cited in "Syntax of early Latin, By Charles Edwin Bennett" - 1910

Further reading[edit]

  • Tenney Frank, Attraction of Mood in Early Latin, Chicago, 1904
  • Frank, The Influence of the Infinitive upon Verbs Subordinated to it, Amer. Jour. Phil, xxv, p. 428 ff.; Thulin, De Coujunctivo Latino, Lund. 1899, pp. 1–76.
  • C. Thulin, De Conjunctive Latino, Lund, 1899, pp. 79–200
  • F. Antoine, L'Attraction modale en Latin, Melanges Boissier, p. 25 ff.
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