When In Trouble, Blame The Hortatory Subjunctive

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June 13, 2007 4:35 p.m.
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In Lurita Doan’s defense, she has trouble with tense sometimes. That’s why members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform think she planned to punish her employees at the General Services Administration for cooperating with investigators, not because she actually planned to sanction anyone.

Lurita Doan explained her grammatical shortfalls in her testimony today. But Democrats on the committee had a hard time buying it. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) took her to task on her tense mincing over a statement Doan made about GSA employees that had cooperated with the Office of Special Council in its investigation into her conduct. When pushed, Doan claimed she meant to invoke the “hortatory subjuctive” when she said:

Until extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, they will not be getting promoted and will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature.

Son of a Latin teacher, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) disagreed. He called her statement the common “future” tense. He also spotted a connection between her grammatical defense and an accusation that she encouraged her employees to help out Republican Congressional races. At a presentation given by Karl Roves’ deputy she asked her GSA employess: “How can we help our candidates?”

Here’s the video of Yarmuth, Sarbanes and the hortatory subjunctive:

Update: For those at home who aren’t ace grammarians, the hortatory subjunctive of Doan’s phrase would read:

Until extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, let’s not promote and not give them bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature.

Update: Here’s much more from Doan’s testimony today.

Late Update: TPM Reader lampwick weighs in below in the comments:

As the son of the mother of a Latin teacher, I feel bound to point out that the subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. The subjunctive is used for hypotheticals and certain types of commands. The most commonly used mood is the indicative, used for statements of fact. Thus ‘will’ is the future indicative; ‘let us do what Rove says’ would be the subjunctive; present subjunctive, in fact.

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