Today’s Grammar Time often strikes fear in the hearts of foreign-language students: the subjunctive mood.
If you took a foreign language in high school or college, then you likely have not-so-fond memories of learning about the subjunctive mood, but there’s no need to stress—the subjunctive is much easier to learn and use in English. You probably use it all the time without even thinking about it.
What Do We Mean By “Mood”?
Why is it called the subjunctive “mood”? Most people are familiar with grammatical tenses, but “moods” are unfamiliar. In grammar, moods are used to express the speaker’s (or writer’s) attitude or feelings towards what they’re saying. English has three moods (although other languages can have more): indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.
Indicative and imperative are fairly easy and familiar to native English speakers; indicative is used for facts, opinions, and questions, while imperative is used for commands.
- I went to the store.
- Shannon likes ice cream.
- Do you want to go see a movie?
- Do your homework!
- Go to bed.
- Come on over!
Subjunctive is harder to recognize because it often looks identical to the indicative mood in modern English, but we use the subjunctive for statements that aren’t objective facts. This includes statements that are contrary to facts and statements that are commands, requests, suggestions, hypothetical statements, or wishful thinking.
- If I were you, I’d take the job.
- She demanded that he be fired.
- If I wrote a book, it would be about my life.
How Do the Indicative and Subjunctive Differ?
For most verbs, there’s no difference between the indicative and the subjunctive forms of the verb, with the exception of the third-person singular form of the verb, which loses its -s ending in the subjunctive:
- He walks home.
- She insisted that he walk home.
How Does Tense Change the Subjunctive Verb?
There are two different forms of the subjunctive in English: present subjunctive and past subjunctive. Present subjunctive uses the base (unconjugated) form of the verb and is used for demands, suggestions, desires, recommendations, etc., typically in a “that” clause.
- I suggested that he wait for a response.
- She demanded that he be quiet.
The past subjunctive is used for present or future statements that are somehow contrary to fact and is formed from the simple past tense of the verb, with the exception of “be,” which is always “were” in the past subjunctive.
- I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
- He would speak up if he knew the answer.
While the subjunctive can be a little tricky sometimes, it’s worth your while to brush up on your subjunctive skills. Correctly using the subjunctive in your writing can add that extra polish that will really impress your readers.
Until next time, Grammar Time readers!