Regrets? I’ve had a few (since I changed my verb moods).

In a recent TEDx talk, Phuc Tan spoke about the effect of different grammars on the way we think.

Specifically, he focused on the subjunctive.

A quick refresher: in English, the subjunctive illuminates alternate realities. For example, things that ‘could,’ ‘should,’ or ‘would’ happen.

snowman alive

Tan was born to Vietnamese parents.
It turns out that Vietnamese doesn’t have a subjunctive mood.

So when he told his father that he didn’t want to continue his college course, his father didn’t dwell on the life that he might have had. He simply asked Tan what he liked, and told him to study that instead.

His dad focused on the actual, inescapable reality of the situation. He expressed this using indicative verbs.

Language is a lens

Language directs our thoughts in a fluid relationship with our senses.

So the insight is not that Vietnamese people can’t conceive of a range of possibilities. It’s that they don’t focus on them. The lens of their language focuses on what actually happens.

Brands would do well to remember this when they are considering their tone of voice. The verb moods you write in shape your relationship with your customers. Are you standing in your customers’ shoes, painting the possible futures laid out in front of them? Or are you facing them, beckoning them towards a future you have already created?

If you’re interested in balancing your subjunctive, indicative and imperative to create a specific relationship with your customers, email Chris.