The Subjunctive Mood | Definition & Examples
The subjunctive mood is a verb form used to refer to a hypothetical scenario or to express a wish, suggestion, or command (e.g., “I suggest you be quiet”).
The subjunctive is one of three grammatical moods in English, along with the indicative mood and the imperative mood.
There are two types of subjunctive verb forms. Verbs in the present subjunctive take the infinitive form (e.g., “be”), while verbs in the past subjunctive are identical to their simple past forms (e.g., “ran”).
What is the subjunctive mood?
The grammatical mood of a verb indicates the intention of a sentence. The subjunctive is one of three grammatical moods in English:
|Indicative||Express a fact
Ask a question
Express a condition
|“Paris is a city.”
“Did you get my message?”
“You can take a break if you want to.”
|Imperative||Express a command or a request||“Stop talking.”|
|Subjunctive||Express a wish, suggestion, demand, or hypothetical situation||“I wish I were more intelligent.”|
The present subjunctive
The present subjunctive is typically used to refer to future actions or situations. Sentences in the present subjunctive mood have two clauses:
- A main clause that contains either an indicative verb (e.g., “Kahn recommended”) or a phrase that starts with “it is” and contains an adjective (e.g., “It is important”)
- A subordinate clause in the subjunctive mood (usually beginning with the conjunction “that”)
Verbs in the present subjunctive do not follow subject-verb agreement. Instead, they take the infinitive form for all persons (e.g., “be,” “eat,” “sing”).
Negative constructions using the present subjunctive are formed by adding the adverb “not” before the subjunctive verb.
The past subjunctive
The past subjunctive is typically used to refer to past or present actions or situations. Sentences in the past subjunctive mood contain two clauses:
- A main clause in the indicative mood (often containing the verb “wish”)
- A subordinate clause in the subjunctive mood (usually beginning with “that,” “if” or “as if”).
The past subjunctive form of the verb “be” is “were,” regardless of the subject (e.g., “I were,” “he were,” “she were”). All other verbs in the past subjunctive form are identical to their simple past tense forms (e.g., “I won”).
When the past subjunctive form is used in an “if” clause, the main clause usually contains a modal verb (normally “would,” but sometimes “should,” “might,” or “could”).
Subjunctive vs. indicative
The subjunctive mood is sometimes confused with conditional sentences in the indicative mood because both commonly use dependent “if” clauses (conditional clauses) and refer to hypothetical situations.
However, while conditional clauses in the indicative mood are used to refer to actions or situations that are possible or likely, conditional clauses in the subjunctive mood refer to situations that are impossible or unlikely.
Common phrases in the subjunctive mood
The subjunctive mood is also used in a range of expressions.
|Be that as it may, I’m not helping you move house.||Nevertheless|
|You can borrow my car if need be.||If necessary|
|Suffice (it) to say, it was the worst vacation.||It is enough to say|
|I’m here for you, come what may.||Regardless of what happens|
|If we have to cancel the surprise party, so be it.||I accept the situation|
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Frequently asked questions
- What is a subjunctive verb?
The subjunctive mood is used to refer to a hypothetical situation or to express a wish, suggestion, or command.
There are two types of subjunctive verb forms:
- Verbs in the present subjunctive take the infinitive form (e.g., “I suggest he be fired”).
- Verbs in the past subjunctive are identical to the simple past form of the verb (e.g., “I wish I had more money”).
- What is the difference between the subjunctive and indicative mood?
The subjunctive mood is used to describe a hypothetical scenario or to express a wish, recommendation, or demand (e.g., “I insist he stop talking,” “I wish I were an astronaut”).
In contrast, the indicative mood is used to express a fact (e.g., “It is sunny today”).
- Is it “if I were” or “if I was”?
You can use either “if I were” or “if I was,” depending on the context.
If I was is used in the indicative mood in a conditional sentence to refer to actions or situations that are likely or possible (e.g., “If I was rude, I should apologize”).
If I were is used for sentences in the subjunctive mood to refer to actions or situations that are unlikely or impossible (e.g., “If I were king, I’d live in a castle”).
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