A Bad Case of Subjunctivitis

editor     Circumstances beyond anyone’s control have led to a telescoping of the final tweaks to this year’s book. Less than a week after finishing the copy-edit the page proofs are already on my desk. It’s been hectic and quite taxing, not least because of a bit of a grammatical wrestling match.

Generally speaking writers don’t get to meet their copy editors. As with designers, it’s a relationship best conducted at a distance. Sometimes it’s as smooth as silk, sometimes it’s the occasion for an outbreak of authorial tetchiness.

I don’t claim to be a great grammarian nor even particularly wish to be. My novels are loaded with dialogue which must, above all, be convincing. Imagine then my despair when I found that I was being copyedited by someone with an uncompromising attitude to the use of the subjunctive tense. And ears of cloth.

Again and again ‘was’  was corrected to ‘were’. At the start I felt chastened. By page 70 I was feeling mightily pissed off.  Even allowing for the admittedly more formal speech of the early 20th century so much of it sounded wrong. And so I began to bite back. ‘Were’ reverted to ‘was’ unless the case for the prosecution was watertight. Quite often it wasn’t. Sometimes it was deeply flawed. It was, I would say, as severe a case of subjunctivitis as I have ever seen. Pity. It was an otherwise thorough and excellent edit. Ah well, you can’t have everything. I don’t know why, but apparently you can’t.


  1. Anne Bond on June 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Laurie, Because I’m a grammar lover and so (obviously) will make some terribly obvious mistake in this post….please could you give an example of what your sub-editor has been suggesting? Personally I loathe plural verbs associated with a singular noun, but am struggling to see how this applies in speech – “I were going to the shop”. Is that the sort of struggle?

    Anne x

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