2

And Andrew shouted that the sea was coming in, so she leapt splashing through the shallow waves on to the shore and ran up the beach and was carried by her own im-petuosity and her desire for rapid movement right behind a rock and there –– oh, heavens! in each other's arms, were Paul and Minta kissing probably. She was outraged, indignant. She and Andrew put on their shoes and stockings in dead silence without saying a thing about it. Indeed they were rather sharp with each other. She might have called him when she saw the crayfish or whatever it was, Andrew grumbled. However, they both felt, it's not our fault. They had not wanted this horrid nuisance to happen. (Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse)

I’m very confused whether the sentence is a back-shifted form of present form –– “she might call him when she sees the crayfish or whatever it is,” Andrew grumbles –– or it is an irrealis. Which side do I have to look at?

1

The phrase expresses Andrew's annoyance that she, Nancy, didn't call out to him on seeing the crayfish (referred to imaginatively by Nancy as "some fantastic leviathan" in the previous paragraph).

Another example of the usage would be the complaint "You might have phoned", directed to someone late to a meeting.

Whether that's an irrealis or not, I couldn't say; this post is the first time I've encountered the term.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.