Subjunctive Mood in English Grammar

Subjunctive Mood in English Grammar

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.

Subjunctive Mood in English Grammar

Subjunctive Mood

Verbs are words that show an action or a state. Based on this criteria, we have action verbs and stative verbs. A verb also shows the time of the occurrence of an action. We call this 'tense'. Based on tense, verbs can have present, past and future tenses. Based on whether the subject does the action or not, a verb can also have active or passive voice.
In this lesson, we will learn about another criteria about verbs: Moods.
In English grammar, mood is the way someone expresses a hypothetical situation or a wish, a demand, or a suggestion.

English Grammar Moods

We have three different moods in English grammar:

  1. the indicative mood
  2. the imperative mood
  3. the subjunctive mood

Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is the most common-used moods in English grammar. Indicative sentences are the sentences that we use the most in everyday conversations. This is the verb form you use to state a fact or ask a question.

I called my sister yesterday .

That is a fact, so this sentence is an indicative mood.

Are you watching a movie ?

This indicates a question form of an indicative mood.

Imperative Mood

The imperative is a verbal mood in the English grammar. It is the most direct way one can give orders or make somebody do or not to do something.

Answer the following questions .

Don't make a sound . The baby's sleeping .

Subjunctive Mood

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

If I were you , I would fight back .

That's a hypothetical situation.

I suggest he rest in bed for a while .

That's an example of someone suggesting something.

Subjunctive Mood: Structure

The subjunctive mood changes the verb from its usual form.
The subjunctive mood changes theses verbs:

  • Am/Is/Are → Be

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

'Are' in the indicative mood is changed to 'be' in the subjunctive mood.

  • Has → Have

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 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.

Informal English

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 call for 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 .

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 .

(Do NOT say: I suggest that he not be late.)

The Present Subjunctive

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:

  • the modal verb 'should'

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

It is a more informal way.

  • 'for + pronoun/object + infinitive with to'

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

Both sentences have the same meaning.

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:

  • Conditional II type sentences

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 .

You're aiming for something that, in reality, you aren't or don't have.

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 .

  • 'If only' expression

If only I knew her name .

'If only' is used when you want to say how doing something would make it possible to avoid something unpleasant:

  • '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.

If you use 'would' after expressing a wish with '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 .

Leaving your clothes all over the floor is 'too annoying'.

  • 'as if/as though' expressions

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

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.

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 .

You are probably having a great time.

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