Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Le Subjunctif

In French class we were talking today about the bane of romance languages: the subjunctive voice. For any who didn’t study romance language, the subjunctive is a tense to show uncertainty: “It is possible that I am going to the store” as opposed to “After class I am going to the store”—the former case is uncertain and uses the subjunctive, but the latter is definite and uses the indicative. There are all kinds of subtleties about when one uses or doesn’t use the subjunctive tense, and it is a nightmare to try to come up with a solid system. I will not be attempting that here.

But what I noticed today is this: while one uses the subjunctive after the clause je pense que (I think that…), one does not use it after the clause je croits que (I believe that…).

Thus, built into romance languages is the notion that believing something is a solid foundation, something requiring an indicative voice, something much less ambiguous than simply thinking it. While the terms are synonymous in English, they transform the voice of the sentence in French.

I asked a friend this summer how to make oneself believe various essential truths of the Christian faith. “How can I really believe that God is taking care of me? How can I really believe that I am forgiven?”

He looked at me and smiled. “You only can believe things you don’t know,” he answered. “If you knew these things, it wouldn’t be believing; it’d just be knowing.”

So I suppose je croits (I believe) is a je pense (I think) used as a je sais (I know). It is the faith to use the indicative voice when one doesn’t have grounds to go beyond the subjunctive.

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