6

From Emma by Jane Austen:

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; but when a beginning is made--when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt--it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.

Why did she write accrue and not accrues?

  • Read it as "...and having no material injury accrue", where that "deleted" participle mirrors "young people passing many months". We probably wouldn't delete that word in that position today, but we wouldn't normally write sentences remotely like that anyway. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 28 '14 at 12:05
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    @username901345: Jane Austen "made a stupid mistake"? Definitely not! I mean that 200 years ago it would have been more "normal" to simply remove the word having in that exact context. Probably because readers were expected to be more attentive and to follow lengthy convoluted structures more exactly - so they'd recognise and transparently understand the parallel structure of passing/having, even when the deleted second word wasn't actually the same as the earlier one which it echoed. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 28 '14 at 12:22
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    @Maulik: The past participle would be appropriate if the "underlying" structure had been "...and no material injury having accrued". But that's not the case here, since such a structure would clash with the earlier clause involving people passing many months (which is what the clause being looked at "mirrors/expands on". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 28 '14 at 12:27
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    Having been exposed to only a diminutive amount of works of giants of English literature, and with ignorable apprehension of English, in the manner of speaking, my simplistic mind understands this "no material injury accrue either to body or mind" as English subjunctive. – Damkerng T. Jul 28 '14 at 14:17
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    @FumbleFingers Set here describes a physique: OED 1, s.v. Set, 14. gives “The build or make of a person. Obs. exc. dial.” We still say heavy-set in the same sense, although there it's probably the participle of the corresponding sense of the verb. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 1 '14 at 19:48
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This is wild speculation on my part, but I'm thinking that accrue could be in the subjunctive mood, and that's why there is no s on the end of it. Jane Austen is expressing the outlandish hypothetical idea (tongue-in-cheek of course) that young people can go without dancing without—amazingly—suffering harm. Maybe that absurdity could be expressed with the subjunctive.

Our use of the subjunctive mood is much more limited these days. I think they used to use it a lot more in her day, and perhaps this is an instance of it.

(Another possibility is that she simply made a mistake and no one has noticed it until now. Crazier things have happened.)

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    I think you're right about the subjunctive. I would only add that Latin will very often have that type of subjunctive in subordinate clauses, and many academic books at the time of Jane Austen's writing were either written in, or influenced heavily by, Latin. Austen might be comically adopting a Latin-sounding syntax in a mock-scholarly tone. – Will Murphy Aug 7 '14 at 18:51
  • +1 I'm inclined to agree with you: this is a "subjunctive of result." – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 1 '14 at 19:43

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