The Subjunctive

January 3, 2014

As a frequent traveler to foreign lands and also as a college English major and high school English teacher, my ears perked up when a speaker said recently that there are some languages that, unlike English, do not have the subjunctive verb mood or mode. I love the subjunctive!

That’s the mood of what might have been, the speaker said. For example, “Had I studied harder, I would have received a better grade.” And “If I were you, I would have studied much longer.”

The subjunctive can also be the mood of excuses, I thought. For example, “If the official hadn’t made that traveling call, we would have won the game.” But I digress.

The subjunctive verb mood is used for the hypothetical. This makes it most valuable as a mindset before taking any action. It helps one think of unintended consequences.

But the subjunctive mood is also useful for the remedial: “If we had done this or that differently then, perhaps the result would have been better.”

Thinking in the subjunctive mood as we plan before initiatives, and then also as we evaluate after plans have been rolled out, are the one-two punch of effective project management.

What we must avoid, however, is thinking of the subjunctive as the mood of regrets. “If only I had . . .” And then doing nothing to try to change the future.

As we think about the year just past and about the year ahead, let’s use the subjunctive mood for its better purposes – planning and evaluation, not excuses and regrets.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.