Thanks to this question I got to know this site, but after three years have passed, I still have a tough time understanding!
Why doesn’t “make believe” take the subjunctive mood?
… the act of making believe really did occur in the past. Even if though make-believe involves pretending things that aren't real, the activity itself is not hypothetical, so it is not in the subjunctive mood.
This is not persuasive to me because I’m questioning about the object noun clause that is picturing the content of pretending, i.e., the kid’s imagination; not about the one picturing the act of his pretending itself.
That answer given in the YT comments apparently relied upon this page I had referred to therein:
When using "pretend", you almost always use the indicative either in the past or present: "The children like to pretend they are kings." This exists this way because the children actually play the part of being kings, whereas "Pretend that I were king" means the equivalent of "Suppose (or Imagine) I were king. I am asking you to imagine this in your mind, rather than play the part in make-believe.
To pretend always implies both to play the part and to suppose or imagine at the same time. When I say “Pretend that I were king,” I’m asking you not just to imagine something in your mind but also to play the part of it actually. When the children make believe that they are kings, they are not only playing the parts but also imagining they were kings.
a) Put yourself in a cardboard box and pretend that you were an astronaut.
b) The kid plays in a cardboard box as if he were an astronaut.
c) The kid pretends (or makes believe) in a cardboard box that he were an astronaut.
I think a) and b) are both correct, but supposedly c) is wrong. Why?
My speculation is that the subjunctive past is used for imaginations generated in the speaker. In fact, a) and b) are both arguably expressing the speakers’ imaginations, whereas being an astronaut in c) is not the speaker’s imagination but an imagination imagined by the kid.
c’) The kid pretends (or makes believe) in a cardboard box that he is an astronaut.
The sentence c’) just depicts the act of the kid, which has nothing to do with the speaker’s imagination. And that’s why the indicative mood is correctly used in c’).
That’s my thought. I’d really love to have your critiques and criticism!