Subjunctive Mood

Subjunctive is a form or mood of verbs that helps us talk about wishes, possibility or uncertainty. To learn about this mood, start reading this article.

intermediate
"Subjunctive Mood" in English Grammar

What Is Subjunctive Mood?

The subjunctive mood indicates situations that are unreal and hypothetical.

It also expresses a suggestion, a necessity, a possibility, a wish, or the way that you want something to be.

Subjunctive Mood: Backshift

The verbs turn to another form when it comes to the 'subjunctive mood.' This process is called a backshift. Here are the changes:

  • Am/Is/Are → Be

You are confident. → I suggest that you be confident.

As you can see, 'are' in the indicative mood is changed to 'be' in the subjunctive mood.

She has an English degree. → I suggest she have an English degree.

'Has' in the indicative mood is changed to 'have' in the subjunctive mood.

  • was → were

I was happy. → I wish I were happy.

'Was' in the indicative mood is changed to 'were' in the subjunctive mood.

  • verbs in the 3rd person singular → the '-s' is omitted

He exercises every day. → I suggest he exercise every day.

Here, the '-s' in the 3rd person singular verb 'exercises' is reduced when it's used in the subjunctive mood.

Tip!

In informal English, it is common to omit 'that' in sentences with subjunctive moods.

It's important that they be prepared. → It's important they be prepared.

'That' is omitted in informal English.

Subjunctive Mood: Common Verbs

Let's name some verbs that usually need a subjunctive mood:

  • suggest
  • demand
  • wish
  • recommend
  • order
  • command
  • insist
  • ask

Mike insisted that the price go higher.

Remember, in a subjunctive mood we do not conjugate the verbs into third person singular form.

Sarah demanded that she be free.

Subjunctive Mood: Common Adjectives

Here is a list of adjectives that are commonly used in the subjunctive mood. These adjectives are often used with 'It is + adj' structure:

  • important
  • necessary
  • essential
  • vital
  • crucial

It is important that you be there.

It is essential that he listen to me.

Tip!

Normally in English, we don not usually encounter with a negative subjunctive sentence. You should use the subjunctive mood in an affirmative construction.

I suggest that he be early. (Not 'I suggest that he not be late.')

The Present Subjunctive

a sentence in the subjunctive mood

The Present subjunctive form has the base form of the verb. It is used in formal English to show that something is important or suggested.
Below, you can see common verbs and expressions that commonly use the present subjunctive mood:

  • Adjectives: important, necessary, essential, crucial ...
  • Verbs: suggest, recommend, demand, insist, ask ...

Present Subjunctive Mood: Other Ways

If you do not want to be more formal and use the present subjunctive mood, you can use:

It's important that she be there. → She should be there.

It's important that she be there. → It's important for her to be there.

The Past Subjunctive

When we want to talk about unreal or improbable situations in present or future, we can use the past subjunctive.
With the exception of the verb 'be,' the past subjunctive of all verbs is their past simple form. The verb 'be' is 'were' for all the persons.
The past subjunctive is used with:

If I were a parent, I would love my kid unconditionally.

Remember not to use 'was' for third and first person singular.

  • 'It's (about/high) time...' expression

It's about time you cleaned your room!

An expression used to emphasize that something should have occurred a long time ago.

  • The verb 'Wish'

I wish I were taller.

Was or Were?

'Was' is sometimes used in subjunctive mood, especially in informal English. But it is more correct to always use 'were' in these situations.

I wish I were taller. = I wish I was taller.

  • the 'If only' expression

If only I knew her name.

  • the 'I'd rather' expression

Well, I'd rather you didn't smoke in here.

Used to show that you prefer to have or do one thing more than another.

Tip!

If you use 'would' after expressing a wish with the 'I wish...' structure, you sound more annoyed by the situation that is going on at the moment of speaking.

I wish you wouldn't leave your clothes all over the floor.

Here, we man leaving your clothes all over the floor is 'too annoying.'

  • the 'as if/as though' expression

It's my birthday. As if/as though you didn't know!

It is obvious that they have a similar meaning. We use 'as if' and 'as though' to talk about an imaginary situation or a situation that may not be true but that is likely or possible. 'As if' is more common than 'as though.'

Tip!

If you want to talk about a situation that is probable or real, you can use the present tense after 'as if/though.'

It sounds as though you're having a great time.

In this case, we mean 'You are probably having a great time.'

Past Perfect Subjunctive

When we want to talk about wishes in the past we use the past perfect tense. This is also a hypothetical situation.

I wish I had given you a chance.

I wish you had taken the trip.

Review

In English grammar, mood is the way someone expresses a hypothetical situation, a wish, a demand, or a suggestion.

English Moods

the indicative mood I called my sister yesterday.
the imperative mood Answer the following questions.
the subjunctive mood If I were you, I would fight back.

Subjunctive Mood

The 'subjunctive mood' indicates situations that are not real and are hypothetical. In addition to that, it expresses a suggestion, a necessity, importance, a possibility, a wish, or the way you want something to be.

Present Subjunctive

am/is/are → be You are confident. → I suggest that you be confident.
has → have She has an English degree. → I suggest she have an English degree.
verbs in 3rd person singular → the '-s' is omitted He exercises every day. → I suggest he exercise every day.
the modal verb 'should' It's important that she be there. → She should be there.
for + pronoun/object + infinitive with to' It's important that she be there. → It's important for her to be there.

Past Subjunctive

was → were I was happy. → I wish I were happy.
conditional II type sentences If I were a parent, I would love my kid unconditionally.
'It's (about/high) time...' expression It's about time you cleaned your room!
the verb 'Wish' I wish I were taller.
'if only' expression If only I knew her name.
'I'd rather' expression Well, I'd rather you didn't smoke in here.
'as if/though' expressions It's my birthday. As if you didn't know!

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