The following is from 'The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival' by John Vaillant

The father did not cry and barely spoke, but in that silence, hooped and bound, he weathered a torrent of subjunctive recrimination that would only intensify with time.

What does 'subjunctive' here mean? I know what 'subjunctive mood' is in grammar so I am guessing 'subjunctive' here is along the lines of 'hypothetical', something to do with the father's guilt. Am I getting this right?

  • 3
    I would think that subjunctive recriminations go like this: If you had only helped me I would have been fine; if you had only kept your word none of this would have happened; etc.
    – Chaim
    Oct 24, 2017 at 19:12
  • @ Chaim Your examples make sense. His son is killed by a tiger and the father contributed some part to his son's death.
    – whitecap
    Oct 24, 2017 at 19:19
  • I don't think any professional writer would use the term subjunctive in any but a strictly grammatical sense. I think it is a typo for "subjective": the father reproaches himself because it was his gun which his son was carrying and which misfired, allowing the tiger to kill his son. Oct 24, 2017 at 19:56
  • This question may, unfortunately, be too subjective for anyone to give a definitive answer to. It's not a question about learning English. I wonder if there's a better place for it. Anyone know if the Literature SE answers questions about what a novelist might have intended?
    – rjpond
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:59

3 Answers 3


I've got an answer from the author. I messaged him some time ago, didn't really expect a reply though. I was afraid he might think I am some kind of weirdo. ( You never know these days) But he messaged me back!

enter image description here

Thank you all of you who tried to help me!

  • This answer, the OP's own, could be technically more informative, but it is quite accurate - especially so since it comes from the mouth of the author of the material in question. Definition: en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/when-to-use-the-subjunctive And we can clearly see "I woulda coulda shoulda" judgemental regrets fit the definition.
    – Mark G B
    Dec 14, 2017 at 0:15

Recrimination means a retaliatory accusation

Subjunctive means "Relating to or denoting a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible"

  • That only takes us so far. Any idea what would actually constitute a subjunctive recrimination? Chaim has a theory in the comments above.
    – rjpond
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:03

Yes, I think I know what it means here. I think the author is using the word "subjunctive" as the adjective of the verb "subjoin" just as "adjunctive" is the adjective of "adjoin" and "conjunctive" is the adjective of "adjoin" and "disjunctive" is the adjective of "disjoin" and "injunctive" is the adjective of "enjoin". I have never heard anyone use "subjunctive" as the adjective of "subjoin", however. "To subjoin" something means "to append something at the end" or "to add or attach at the end of something spoken or written, etc." This is the verb whence we get the word "subjunctive."

Anyway, I think, in this instance, the author uses it figuratively to mean that the "recriminations" or "counter-accusations" are being added at the end, i.e. that somebody had made some accusations and then, in the end, a torrent of these "recriminations" came out of nowhere to be levelled against him. That's my guess; it's an educated one, but I have no proof that that is what he's using it to mean because no dictionary that I could find has a definition of "subjunctive" as "of or relating to being subjoined"; I am just following the paradigm of other etymologically-similar words.

I hope that might have helped answer your question, nonetheless. Take care and good luck in your studies.

  • 1
    Actually the reason it's called the subjunctive is that Roman grammarians associated it with "subjoined", i.e. subordinate, clauses.
    – rjpond
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:56
  • That's a good answer too. I guessed it meant adding affixes to the ends of stems, but it could be through subordinate clauses; however, the subjunctive can appear outside of subordinate clauses also, so it's another misnomer perhaps. I said I was "presuming", which meant I made an educated guess.
    – Nick
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:59

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