I made a slip in my Spanish today when I was chatting to the grandmother of a friend of Sam’s (my 8 year old son). I used a subjunctive form when I shouldn’t have. It’s a simple slip – an “a” instead of an “e” in the verb ending. But it means that what was meant as a question actually came out as a future time clause. No harm done really. My question intonation got my message across and the conversation continued.
It may be a small slip (though one I should really have ironed out by now) but it’s also an ugly slip, and it’s one that embarrassed Sam. “It’s vuelven, not vuelvan, mam” he said, quietly. “Doesn’t matter” said his friend’s gran with a smile as we walked on. But it did matter – to Sam. “It isn’t a question if you say cuando vuelvan,” he explained, gently and patiently. “It sounds like you’re going to say something else. Like you haven’t finished. Cuando vuelven? is a question, cuando vuelvan is like we’re going to do something together when they get back, but you didn’t say what. ”
I may not be reporting it totally verbatim, but more or less, give or take a like or two, that’s what he said. No one has ever explained the use of the conjunctive so concisely and so clearly to me before, the communicative force and the potential cause of confusion. Or in this case the loss of face – Sam’s loss of face, ‘cos his mum’s Spanish is so bad!