Subjunctive with “Si” and “Nisi”

Hi All,

I have a couple questions about using the subjunctive with si and its negative form, nisi.

In Ch. 33 of my textbook, the author uses conditional statements to teach about the pluperfect subjunctive.

1. Si iam tum hoc intellexissem, certe patrem audivissem…
If I had understood this then, I certainly would have listened to father…

The circumstance the character is describing is hypothetical (and in fact contrary to what did happen), so therefore the verbs are subjunctive – is this understanding correct?

2. …etenim malus amicus fuissem, nisi lacrimas effudissem…
…for in fact I would have been a bad friend, unless I had shed tears…

The first part of this makes sense, but I am a little confused about the second part – nisi lacrimas effudissem.
The character narrating this really did shed tears, so the circumstance is not contrary to fact.
Why then do we need the subjunctive? Why not instead effuderam?

What also confuses me is that sometimes si does not appear with subjunctive verbs.
For example, in an earlier chapter a character states:

3. …omnem pecuniam meam praedonibus dabo, si libertatem mihi reddent.
I will give all my money to the pirates, if they will return to me [my] liberty.

The verb reddent is future tense indicative (and now that I think of it there is no future tense subjunctive).
Why do some tenses “escape” the subjunctive – even when coupled with si – while others (like the pluperfect examples I gave above) do not?

I appreciate your insights!
Cornelius
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The circumstance the character is describing is hypothetical (and in fact contrary to what did happen), so therefore the verbs are subjunctive – is this understanding correct?
Yes.
The character narrating this really did shed tears, so the circumstance is not contrary to fact.
The character did shed tears, therefore it is contrary to fact that they did not shed tears.
What also confuses me is that sometimes si does not appear with subjunctive verbs.
For example, in an earlier chapter a character states:

3. …omnem pecuniam meam praedonibus dabo, si libertatem mihi reddent.
I will give all my money to the pirates, if they will return to me [my] liberty.
That's just how it is: the meaning of "this will happen if that happens" is expressed with the future tense.

You can also refer to a future potentiality with the subjunctive (present or perfect) but then the meaning is more like "If this happened (or should happen) that would happen".
 
1. Excellent.

2. Ah, that was a tricky double negative! But I see where that comes from and the role that nisi plays.

3. I guess since there are technically no facts in the future, no statement about the future could truly be contrary to fact.
Also, I see how this sentence could work with the subjunctive:

...omnem pecuniam meam praedonibus dem, si libertatem mihi reddant.
(I would give all my money to the pirates, if they were to return to me [my] liberty.)

But as you indicated, the meaning is much less strong – and perhaps this character uses the indicative for that very reason.

Thank you for these explanations!
 
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Glabrigausapes

Lammergeyer
CORNELIUS XXXIV dixit:
What also confuses me is that sometimes si does not appear with subjunctive verbs.
Sometimes, as in English, the particle si does not denote irreality/hypothesis but rather acknowledges the 'lingering doubt' in the mind of the speaker. Think 'Scooby-Doo' type nonsense:

Shaggy: "Like, wait a second. If you're here, who stole the old man's diamonds?'
There is no hypothesis; we have just learned that the character, who we thought was absent, is in fact present. To put it another way, it indicates the belief of the speaker or 'supposed truth' of the statement:
Tu si sapis, Corneli, hoc facies.
'If you are wise (as I believe you to be), Cornelius, you will do this.'
 
That's quite a fine point – thank you for pointing it out!
These things are just statements – nothing hypothetical – that include the "lingering doubt" (as you put it).

For the second example, you could also use the subjunctive, but si applies either way:

Tu si sapias, Corneli, hoc facias.
If you were wise, Cornelius, you would do this.
 

Glabrigausapes

Lammergeyer
Precisely!
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
It's simple enough: when there's no "would" in the English version, you usually won't have the subjunctive in Latin.

(That's an oversimplified statement, with its exceptions, but it hold true, what, 95% of the time.)
 
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