H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
most formal English. In Old English, says Bradley,68 the subjunctive played as important a part as in modern German, and was used in much the same way. Its inflection differed in several respects from that of the indicative. But the only formal trace of the old subjunctive still remaining, except the use of be and were, is the omission of the final s in the third person singular. And even this is rapidly dropping out of use . Perhaps in another generation the subjunctive forms will have ceased to exist except in the single instance of were, which serves a useful function, although we manage to dispense with a corresponding form in other verbs. Here, as elsewhere, unlettered American usage simply proceeds in advance of the general movement. Be and the omitted s are already dispensed with, and even were has been discarded.
In the same way the distinction between will and shall, preserved in correct English but already breaking down in the most correct American, has been lost entirely in the American common speech. Will has displaced shall completely, save in the imperative. This preference extends to the inflections of both. Shant is very seldom heard; almost always wont is used instead. As for should, it is displaced by ought to (degenerated to oughter or oughta), and in its negative form by hadnt oughta, as in he hadnt oughter said that, reported by Charters. Lardner gives various redundant combinations of should and ought, as in I dont feel as if I should ought to leave and they should not ought to of had. I have encountered the same form, but I dont think it is as common as the simple oughta forms.69 In the main, should is avoided, sometimes at considerable pains. Often its place is taken by the more positive dont. Thus I dont mind is used instead of I shouldnt mind. Dont has also completely displaced doesnt, which is very seldom heard. He dont and they dont are practically universal. In the same way aint has displaced is not, am not, isnt and arent, and even have not and havent. One recalls a famous speech in a naval melodrama of twenty years ago: We aint got no manners, but we can fight like hell. Such forms as he aint here, I aint the