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My language is Persian and I think we have an aspect which is absent in English, or maybe I am wrong.

In a conversation I wrote this sentence

Then you mean it is not important that I be the first one having to have a mere idea that earth revolves around the sun and I should someway prove it!?

I don't know if it is correct but I said "I be" maybe because of my mother language inference. It is imaginary and something like "would be" but without "would". because if I say "I am" it means I really am.

Like

Then you mean it is not important that I am a Persian....

Means I am a Persian, and you try to say it is not important ....

But if I say

Then you mean it is not important that I be a Persian

Means I am not a Persian or I could be a Persian or not, and you try to say it is not important ....

Now suppose the verb is "go"

Then you mean it is not important that I go to university

It should mean that I go to university but you say it is not important...

Now how can I say it in an imaginary format?

Then you mean it is not important that I ....?

  • 3
    The be is perfectly good English -- it is what traditionalists call the 'present subjunctive'. However, what follows could stand some rewriting: "... that I be the first to have the idea that ...". And be and prove should employ the same structure: either that I be ... and that I someday prove or that I should be ... and that I should someday prove – StoneyB Jul 10 '15 at 19:42
  • Actually in my original sentence which was out of intuition I said "... that I be the first to have", then I modified it. How I knew this structure I don't know – Ahmad Jul 10 '15 at 19:44
  • @StoneyB then you say there is really this structure of "be" in English? Just seems for other verbs it is not! – Ahmad Jul 10 '15 at 19:46
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    @Ahmad Do you think it desirable that I prove it? (QED). It's little used these days, but it's legit. – StoneyB Jul 10 '15 at 19:49
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    A tense is a grammatical form that locates a situation in time—for example, past, present, or future. – snailcar Jul 10 '15 at 22:15
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"that I be" is a good use of the English present subjunctive (which is what I believe you meant when you said "imaginary format"). In this "mood" the verb is always the same as the infinitive:

  • that I be
  • that you be
  • that he/she/it be
  • that we be
  • that they be

If you want to use it with "go", it's still the same as the infinitive:

  • that I go
  • that you go
  • that he/she/it go
  • that we go
  • that they go

Perhaps you're uncomfortable with "that I go" because it is the same as the indicative mood "I go". Sorry! That's just the way it is in English. Except for the verb "be", the only time you see a difference between present subjunctive and present indicative is in the third person singular:

  • It is important that he GO now.
  • He GOES to Madrid every weekend.

NOTE: The present subjunctive is becoming less and less common. People sometimes use the indicative (which erases a useful distinction), or they use a modal verb (which preserves it), or they change the subject to an object and use the infinitive (see the third example below):

  • It is important that he goes now.
  • It is important that he should go now.
  • It is important for him to go now.
  • Thank you, then as you say and as I guess it is something different than "would be" and maybe always we can't make an equivalent with "If" and "would" – Ahmad Jul 10 '15 at 20:56
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    (1) "It is not important that you BE the first one" — We don't know if you will be the first one, but this is not important. (2) "It is not important that you ARE the first one" — You are the first one, and it is not important. (3) "It WOULD NOT BE important if you WERE the first one." — You are not the first one, but this is not important. – Douglas McClure Jul 10 '15 at 21:12
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    @DouglasMcClure Note that your #3, It would not be important if you were the first one, may bear quite a different interpretation: Such-and such would not be important if you were the first one; but since you are not the first one, such-and-such is (or at least may be) important. – StoneyB Jul 11 '15 at 1:01
  • I am unable to paraphrase #3. I don't know what it means. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 11 '15 at 12:20
  • @TRomano: do you mean because "it" is ambiguous, as StoneyB describes, or do you have further objections to #3 apart from that? – Steve Jessop Jul 11 '15 at 15:16
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In the case of your question, it is interesting that your sentence can actually mean BOTH options.

Consider a son talking to his parents about going to college. He doesn't want to go to college, and his parents are trying to convince him otherwise:

Parents: A college education will open so many doors for you! It's crucial for getting a job.

Son: So you mean (that) it is important that I go to college?

In this example, the son's comment isn't him saying that he goes to college - it is him considering a hypothetical. There is no implication there that he is currently going to college.

Now consider a student interviewing for a job while in college during the school year:

Interviewer: We don't think that your classes will get in the way of the job.

Student: So you mean (that) it is not important that I go to college?

Here, the student's comment implies that they are in college. You could read this as the student asking if it is important that one goes to college, but the context tells us otherwise.

The same exact sentence implies different things depending on the context.


A different option that leaves out all doubt would be modifying the verb and adding "if," giving you this:

Then you mean it would not be important if I went to university.

Or, even clearer:

Then you mean it would not be important whether or not I went to university.

For your earlier example about being Persian, you would get this:

Then you mean it would not be important if I were a Persian.


StonyB's comment is yet another option.

  • You managed to post a much more detailed answer as I was typing mine. I think it's worth mentioning that the OP's second sentence, "Then you mean it is not important that I am a Persian..." also holds both meanings as you mentioned. Although the sentence "Then you mean it is not important if I am a Persian..." is more explicit about the idea of a hypothetical -- the "would be tense" the OP is referring to. – Crazy Eyes Jul 10 '15 at 20:36
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    +1 Good answer. I'm comparing it with what the OP had in mind, and I see this exactly answers the question. – M.A.R. Jul 10 '15 at 20:38
  • Thank you, but I think you don't need to make both parts imaginary, suppose that I am going to kill you, and you don't know my nationality, then I say "so it's not important that I be a Persian", How you tell this in your style with "would"? – Ahmad Jul 10 '15 at 20:48
  • @Ahmad it depends on what exactly you're trying to say. I'm confused on exactly what you mean with saying that your nationality doesn't matter when trying to kill someone. Try a different context and I'll tell you. – Alex K Jul 10 '15 at 20:55
  • Maybe it was better that I say "you are going to kill me", suppose you lost your brother many years ago and you don't know him. In a happening, you say to a person who is your brother "I am beating you because you stole my car", he knows you (while you don't) and says "So, it is not important if I be your brother" or "it is not important that I be your brother", he means do you continue beating him in spite of that fact... I think he can't say "it would not be important ...." – Ahmad Jul 10 '15 at 21:05

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