Il Congiuntivo Dell’Onorevole Posted by Serena on Jan 19, 2017 in Grammar, News
We all know that il congiuntivo (the subjunctive) is a tricky verbal form to use in Italian, and this is true not only for foreigners, but also for mother tongue Italian speakers. For this reason one’s ability to use the subjunctive or not is a real social class divider, here in Italy.
We Italians really appreciate it when a foreigner uses the subjunctive, but given the difficulty, no one is surprised if they make a mistake. I still remember when, after we had been living here in Italy for a couple of years, our doctor said to Geoff: “Il suo italiano è migliorato tanto, ormai sa usare correttamente il congiuntivo. Complimenti Signor Chamberlain” (Your Italian has improved a lot, you now know how to use the subjunctive correctly. Well done Mr Chamberlain)
It’s a different story however, if an Italian, particularly someone who holds an important social position, makes a mistake with the subjunctive! The latest ‘subjunctive blunder’ to hit the Italian headlines was committed by the vice president of Parliament and leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle political party, Luigi Di Maio.
On the 13th of January, Luigi Di Maio wrote on his Twitter page:
“Se c’è rischio che soggetti spiano massime istituzioni dello Stato qual è livello di sicurezza che si garantisce alle imprese e cittadini?” (If there’s a risk that individuals spy on high level Government institutions what level of security can be guaranteed to businesses and private citizens?)
However, the expression c’è rischio che must be followed by either un congiuntivo presente (a present subjunctive) or un congiuntivo passato (a past subjunctive). Unfortunately, Di Maio used spiano, which is the actually indicativo presente (present indicative).
So a few hours later he tried to correct himself:
“Se c’è rischio che massime istituzioni dello Stato venissero spiate qual è livello di sicurezza che si garantisce alle imprese e cittadini?” (If there’s a risk that high level Government institutions had been spied on what level of security can be guaranteed to businesses and private citizens?)
This time Di Maio actually managed to use a subjunctive (venissero spiate), but he used the wrong tense: venissero spiate is the imperfect tense of the passive form. The correct form to use should have been either siano/vengano spiate, which is the present passive subjunctive, or siano state spiate, the past passive subjunctive.
So he made a third attempt, this time on Facebook:
“Se c’è il rischio che due soggetti spiassero le massime istituzioni dello Stato qual è livello di sicurezza che si garantisce alle imprese italiane e ai singoli cittadini?” (If there’s a risk that two individuals spied on high level Government institutions what level of security can be guaranteed to Italian businesses and private citizens?)
In this final attempt Di Maio abandoned the passive construction, and went with the subjunctive spiassero, but, sadly for him, it was still in the wrong tense, the imperfect!
So, what should he have said? Come on readers, I’m sure you all know the answer!
The correct present subjunctive is spiino. Here’s what he should have written in his original message:
“Se c’è rischio che soggetti spiino massime istituzioni dello Stato qual è livello di sicurezza che si garantisce alle imprese e cittadini?”
So, next time you’re struggling to use the Italian subjunctive, remember this article and you’ll feel a lot better!
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