MoodsVerbs

Subjunctive mood

There’s a subjunctive mood in English?


Well, yes. Yes there is.

  • The indicative mood is used to talk about the way things really are.
  • The subjunctive mood is used to talk about hypothetical or unreal situations.

Although many of us think that the subjunctive mood does not exist in English, it actually does. Do we use it? When do we use it? Why do we use it? How do we form it?

We often use it without knowing. It just sounds right. So, what is it, why do we use it, and when do we use it?


To express commands or demands

The verb in the subjunctive is exactly the same as the bare infinitive (verb without TO) in all persons.

  • They insisted that she stand during the ceremony.
  • The nurse demanded that the patient get back into bed.
  • The thieves demanded that he give them his wallet.
  • The doctor insisted that she be admitted to the hospital.
  • So be it!
  • Far be it from me …
  • Suffice it to say …
  • If truth be told …

To express suggestions

The verb in the subjunctive is exactly the same as the bare infinitive form of the verb in all persons.

  • The doctor suggested that he quit smoking.
  • Her parents suggested that she learn to play the piano.
  • My manager suggested that we take the clients to an Indian restaurant.

To express requests or proposals

The verb in the subjunctive is exactly the same as the bare infinitive form of the verb in all persons.

  • They requested that she speak English.
  • The manager proposes that the meeting start at 11.

To make statements of importance or necessity

The verb in the subjunctive is exactly the same as the bare infinitive form of the verb in all persons.

  • It’s imperative that she pass the final exam.
  • It’s important that he call his parents this evening.
  • It’s essential that he be invited to the meeting tomorrow.

After some verbs and adjectives + that

The verb in the subjunctive is exactly the same as the bare infinitive form of the verb in all persons.

Ask, demand, insist, order, prefer, recommend, regret, request, require, suggest, and wish are common examples of verbs.

  • The school insists that he be quiet in the library.
  • The only thing we ask is that he not forget to bring the desert.
  • The teacher requested that Samantha sit.

Tip: Important that, essential that, critical that, necessary that, and imperative that are common examples of adjectives + that.

  • It is essential that she be quiet in the library.
  • It is critical that he arrive before the meeting starts.
  • It is imperative that the meeting start on time.

To express some hypothetical situations

They are called doubtful possibilities because they are imaginary or unreal situations: the second conditional

To form the second conditional

Tip: We use the subjunctive mood to form the second conditional (unreal conditional.)

  • If I had a chocolate bar, I would eat it. I do not have a chocolate bar.
  • I would eat a chocolate bar if I had one.
  • If I were younger, I would move to Australia.
  • If she were shorter, she could wear those high heels.

Tip: The auxiliary verb TO BE changes. We use WERE instead of WAS in all persons.

  • If they were here, we could start eating. They are not here. We cannot start eating.
  • We could start eating if they were here.

You may recognize the second conditional, also known as the unreal conditional:

  • If we had time, we would go to the museum. We do not have time. We will not go to the museum.
  • We would go to the museum if we had time.
  • If we were farmers, we wouldn’t grow genetically modified vegetables. We are not farmers. We do not grow vegetables.
  • We wouldn’t grow genetically modified vegetables if we were farmers.
  • If he had more money, he could travel. He does not have money. He cannot travel.
  • He could travel if he had more money.

All other verbs (verbs that are not auxiliary verbs) look and sound like the simple past, indicative mood.

If I asked, if she demanded, if we went, if they saw, if the children played, if they worked, if my family traveled, if we slept, ate, if you swam, if she answered, etc…


To express a wish

  • I wish I were there to celebrate with you.
  • I wish you had been here yesterday.
  • She wishes she were here with us now.
  • They wish they had more time to play tennis.
  • I wish the restaurant offered dark chocolate milk shakes.
  • I wish it would stop raining.
  • I wish you hadn’t told me about that.
  • She wishes you had asked her before taking the last soda.
  • If I were to go to Spain next year, I would go with friends.
  • If my mobile phone were to break, I would have to buy a new one.
  • I wish it would snow tomorrow.
  • I am happy you are coming to the party. I wish you would bring my favourite chocolate!

After as though, if, and unless when the situation is hypothetical or a comparison

  • She danced as though she were walking on hot coals.
  • He orders me around as if he were the king.
  • If Naoko were taller, she would be able to reach the top shelf.
  • I would not repeat it unless it were true.
  • They would buy a horse if they won the lottery.

To express the unreal, hypothetical situations, dreams, and wishes

  • I wish he were making me a chocolate cake.
  • If he made me a chocolate cake, I would be so happy
  • I would love it if he baked a chocolate cake.

When giving commands or making demands (We can also use the imperative mood)

  • I demand that he bake me a chocolate cake. Subjunctive mood
  • Bake me a chocolate cake! Imperative mood

To make suggestions

  • I suggest that you bake a chocolate cake.

Tip: You may notice that the meaning of the following sentences changes:

  • I had cake last night and it was delicious! (Simple past, indicative mood) Real.
  • If I baked a cake, it would be delicious! (Second conditional. Subjunctive mood) Unreal.
  • When I was shorter, I could fit under the table. (Simple past, indicative mood) Real.
  • If I were shorter, I could fit under the table. (Second conditional. Subjunctive mood) Unreal.
  • I will be on vacation next month and (will) go to Australia. (Simple future, indicative mood) Real.
  • If I were going on vacation next month, I would go to Australia. (Second conditional. Subjunctive mood) Unreal.
  • If I were rich OR If I had a lot of money, I would go to Australia. (Second conditional. Subjunctive mood) Unreal.
  • He always sits at the back of the class. (Simple present, indicative mood) Real.
  • I suggest that he sit closer to the front of the class. (Making a suggestion. Subjunctive mood)

Recap tips

Tip: To speak about something that is real or true, we use the indicative mood.

Tip: To talk about wishes, suggestions, something hypothetical or unreal, we use the subjunctive mood.


What about the negative, continuous, and passive?

Negative form:

  • The teacher insisted that Tamara not be late.
  • The company recommended that the employees not stand too close to the front entrance.
  • They suggested that we not go swimming in the ocean at night.

Passive voice:

  • The doctor recommended that the patient be seen immediately.
  • Her parents demanded that she be included in all school activities.
  • We suggested that you be admitted to the English program.

Continuous:

  • It is important that you be standing outside when I arrive.
  • It is crucial that a flight attendant be waiting for her when she boards the plane.
  • I propose that we all be hiding when the birthday girl arrives. We can yell SURPRISE!

Common errors:

  • If I was you, I would get there early. WERE is the correct form.
  • If I were you, I would get there early.
  • I would get there early if I were you.
  • If we knew it was on sale yesterday, we would have bought it. HAD KNOWN is the correct form.
  • If we had known it was on sale yesterday, we would have bought it.
  • Had we known it was on sale yesterday, we would have bought it.
  • I would have told you if I would have known. HAD KNOWN is the correct form.
  • If I had known, I would have told you.
  • Had I known, I would have told you.

Practice, practice, practice! You may want to read about the second conditional mood.

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