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 is a verb form or in English that is used to express desires, suggestions, doubts, or hypothetical situations. By using the subjunctive mood, the speaker can convey a sense of uncertainty or possibility, and express ideas that are not necessarily rooted in fact.

Subjunctive Mood: Backshift

When using the subjunctive mood, verbs often change form. This process is commonly referred to as '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 declarative mood is changed to 'be' in the subjunctive mood.

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

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

  • was → were

I was happy. → I wish I were happy.

'Was' in the declarative 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 omitted when it's used in the subjunctive mood.

Tip!

In informal English, 'that' is commonly omitted from sentences with subjunctive mood.

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

Subjunctive Mood: Common Verbs

The following is a list of some verbs that commonly need a subjunctive mood:

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

Mike insisted that the price go higher.

Remember, in the subjunctive mood the verbs are not conjugated into third person singular form.

Sarah demanded that she be free.

Subjunctive Mood: Common Adjectives

The following is a list of some adjectives that are commonly used in the subjunctive mood. These adjectives are often used in 'It is + adj + (that)' structure:

  • important
  • necessary
  • essential
  • vital
  • crucial

It is important that you be there.

It is essential that he listen to me.

Tip!

In English, we normally do not encounter a negative subjunctive sentence. The subjunctive mood is usually used 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 of a verb is the same as its base form. It is often used in formal English to indicate that something is important or suggested.
Below, you can see 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 prefer not to sound formal, 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

To discuss unreal or improbable situations in the present or future, we can use the past subjunctive. With the exception of the verb 'be', the past subjunctive form of all verbs is their past simple form. The past subjunctive form of 'be' is 'were' for all persons, regardless of whether the subject is singular or plural.
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.

  • with the verb 'Wish'

I wish I were taller.

Was or Were?

'Was' is sometimes used in the subjunctive mood, especially in informal English. However, it is generally considered more correct to always use 'were' in these contexts.

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

Tip!

When using the 'I wish...' structure to express a wish or desire, adding 'would' can convey a sense of annoyance or impatience with the current situation. Pay attention to the example:

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

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

  • 'If only' expressions

If only I knew her name.

  • 'I'd rather' expressions

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.

  • 'as if/as though' expressions

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

They have a similar meaning and are used to talk about an imaginary situation or a situation that may not be true but is likely or possible. 'As if' is more common than 'as though.'

Tip!

When discussing a situation that is probable or real, it is possible to 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 discussing wishes in the past, it is common to use the past perfect tense. This tense is often used to describe hypothetical situations that did not actually occur.

I wish I had given you a chance.

By using the past perfect tense, the speaker can convey a sense of regret or desire for a different outcome in the past.

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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