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In the Originals series, Episode 1 of season 1, Klaus says:

We fled Europe and survived the seas. Would you rather I arrive hungry on the shores of our new homeland?

I read about the 'would rather' grammar that for different subject we have to use past simple tense. So in this dialogue, shouldn't it be "Would you rather I arrived hungry..."?

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  • Where did you read that for different subject we have to use past simple tense? I don't understand what you mean, but with more context, it might make sense
    – gotube
    Aug 24, 2022 at 4:28

2 Answers 2

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Most guidance suggests that you should use the past tense or "past subjunctive" (perhaps with the perfect aspect) in such constructions. (For example, the Cambridge Dictionary.) Michael Swan says that using the present tense or "present subjunctive" is "possible . . . but unusual". (That was noted in an ELU answer that may interest you.)

However, in my experience (I'm a native AmE speaker) the present subjunctive is quite common in such situations. For example, I searched in Google Books for "I'd rather you find" and got plenty of results from modern literature. The first two hits were poetry, but the third was:

"I'd rather you find out later." (Lawrence Lariar, I Like It Cool, MysteriousPress.com/Open Road, 2019)

I then searched for "I'd rather you go" and again got plenty of results. The first was actually an English language guide, but the second was:

'I'd rather you go together,' Sam said. (Hilary Norman, Hell, Severn House, 2012)

Conclusion: Much formal guidance recommends that you use the past tense or past subjunctive (perhaps with the perfect aspect) in this case, but English speakers and writers often use the present subjunctive.

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  • But English doesn't have a subjunctive mood. It was lost in earlier stages of the language. "Would rather" takes either a bare infinitival in a catenative construction (I'd rather go alone) or a finite clause complement (I'd rather she did it herself). For past time we need "have", as in I'd rather have done it myself.
    – BillJ
    Aug 24, 2022 at 17:22
  • @BillJ But English does have a subjunctive mood according to reputable sources, including many professional linguists. As for the association between past time and the perfect aspect, yes, I agree, but for the sake of simplicity and clarity I opted not to go into too much detail. If you think that it's a necessary part of the answer, I'd be willing to add some more explanation. Aug 24, 2022 at 17:33
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This present subjunctive is not wrong. As gotube wrote, there is no need to use a particular tense because of a change in subject.

The sentence strongly suggests that the speaker is about to arrive. The action(s) they could take now will affect their state when they arrive.

Past tense is possible here, but sounds a little strained to me, and it also suggests that they've already taken the action that will prevent them from arriving hungry.

Note that if the speaker has already arrived, then pluperfect is necessary: "Would you rather I had arrived ..."

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