Mettons que je me sois trompée…
may-taw kuh zhuhm swah traw-PAY… Click below to hear this.
Let’s say I was mistaken…
Mind you, I am admitting no such thing. No. Nope. I was not mistaken. But a sentence like this allows you to make a logical argument that extends your case, further convinces your opponent that you could not possibly have been mistaken, and that even if you were mistaken, his case is groundless anyway.
How does this little sentence accomplish all that? Simple. It’s the subjunctive.
Wait, wait, before you panic and protest that the subjunctive is anything but simple, hear me out.
As a general rule, the subjunctive is called to show its face whenever you are expressing some kind of doubt, uncertainty, or fear. Naturally, in the case above, we want to cast doubt on the very possibility that we could have been mistaken.
So we call on the phrase used to set up a hypothesis in the sciences or in math: Mettons que… In English, Let’s suppose…, or, more literally, Let’s put….
Now you are ready to express your hypothesis. But everyone knows that a hypothesis is not certain. You’ll need to prove it. In English, the word suppose carries the burden of expressing this uncertainty, whereas the hypothesis itself is in a nice assertive affirmative form: I was mistaken. In French, it’s the subjunctive: …je me sois trompée. You can translate this as I may/could/might have been mistaken.
When the goal is creating doubt, this seems more forceful, doesn’t it? That verb in the subjunctive forces us to keep in mind that it is merely a hypothetical statement, whereas Let’s suppose is easy to forget about as soon as it is uttered.
Ultimately, this French expression is used wherever you would say in English Even if I was mistaken…. You can tell in an instant that someone is about to try to demolish your argument.
Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.