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Optative

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English

Part of being human means that we all have hopes, wishes, and desires. We all want things and want to make something of our lives. In essence, the optative mood is all about how we express these wants, wishes, and desires.

Optative Introduction to Optative Mood StudySmarterThe optative mood is often used to express wishes, Pixabay

In this article, we'll look at the different kinds of grammatical mood that exist in the English language, taking particular interest in the optative mood. We'll look at what the optative mood is, what its purpose is, and some different situations in which it can be used.

Before we delve straight into that, let's get some background information first. For instance, what even is a grammatical mood?

Let's explore:

Grammatical mood introduction

The best place to start any exploration is at the very beginning. What is a grammatical mood?

A grammatical mood is a feature of grammar applied to verbs that is used to show how the verb is meant to be perceived or understood. Grammatical mood is a way of applying the writer or speaker's intentions to the verb so that the nuances (subtle differences or levels of meaning) of an utterance can be correctly understood by the reader or listener.

Basically, grammatical mood helps us to understand what a sentence means in the context of how the writer or reader intended it.

There are five key grammatical moods in the English language:

  • Indicative mood: used to state a fact or something that is believed to be factual (e.g. 'It is raining outside.' or 'It looks like it's going to rain soon.').
  • Imperative mood: used to give instructions or commands, or to make a request (e.g. 'Put the suitcases in the bedroom, please.' or 'Clean your room!').
  • Conditional mood: used to express situations that rely on certain conditions (e.g. 'If I had studied harder, I would have gotten an A.' or 'I don't sleep well when I drink caffeinated drinks at night.').
  • Interrogative mood: used to ask questions or gain information (e.g. 'What did you make for dinner last night?' or 'Have you finished your essay yet?').
  • Subjunctive mood: used to express wishes, suggestions or obligations relating to hypothetical situations or situations that have not happened yet (e.g. 'The doctor recommended that I stay off my feet for a week.', 'It's mandatory that you take a Covid test before travelling to certain countries.').

Try to come up with three additional examples for each of these grammatical moods! Are there any phrases you use in your daily life that would fall under any of these categories?

Whilst these are the most common grammatical moods, there are a couple of important additional moods you need to know about which we'll look at in this next section.

Grammatical moods do not necessary correlate to our own emotions or 'moods', Pixabay

Additional grammatical moods

As is the case with many English Language topics, the umbrella of 'grammatical moods' not only has the main types described above but also several less commonly used grammatical moods. Just because these are less common, it doesn't mean they're less important. So without further ado, let's see what we're talking about in this section!

Optative and potential moods

The key additional moods you need to know about are the optative and the potential. As the title of this article suggests, the main thing we're concerned about is the optative mood so we'll go into more depth with that one, but we'll have a brief look at the potential mood first.

The potential mood basically does what it says on the tin - it's all about indicating potential or possibility. The potential mood is used to demonstrate how the writer or speaker believes something is likely to happen. The potential mood can also be used to give permission, or to express willingness to do something.

For example:

  • 'He could show up to the dinner party.' (indicating potential)

  • 'You may borrow a pen for the exam.' (giving permission)

  • 'I would definitely go to a pool party in the summer.' (expressing willingness)

Try to think of some more examples for each of the potential mood's purposes. Can you think of any situations where you might have used a potential phrase?

And since the point of this article is to learn about the optative mood, we'll give it its own section:

Optative mood meaning

The optative mood is an expressive grammatical mood. What is it used for? How can we recognise it? Let's find out:

Optative definition

Optative is an adjective, which means it is a describing word.

The optative mood refers to a grammatical mood used to express wishes, desires, or hopes.

Optative can also be a noun when it is used to name the optative verb in a sentence. For example:

'I wish I were rich.' is an optative sentence, and the verb 'wish' is the optative.

Optative mood in English examples

To help consolidate this definition a bit better before we move on with the optative exploration, let's check out some quick examples of the optative mood in English with a bit of context:

  • 'May the baby be healthy and strong!' - This is a wish or prayer that people often make when a friend or relative has a baby.
  • 'I wish you the best of luck.' - This is a common wish that you may well have made yourself in the past.
  • 'If only there were more hours in the day!' - This wish is often used when someone is very busy and feels like they can't get everything they need to do done in time.

As you can see, each of these examples expresses a wish or hope, which is a key indicator of the optative mood.

Identifying the optative mood

The optative mood in English does not have its own morphology (form or structure) but in other languages, there is a distinct morphological optative. For instance, in Greek, the optative mood can be easily identified by the presence of 'οι', 'ει', or 'αι' endings.

Optative Optative Mood Definition StudySmarterGreek and other languages use the optative mood more than English, Pixabay

How can we identify whether an utterance in English uses the optative mood then? The optative mood is also quite similar to the subjunctive mood which adds another layer of complexity, however, there are ways to distinguish between the two grammatical moods.

There are several strategies you can use to identify whether an utterance is optative or not, and we'll start by looking at the difference between the optative mood and the subjunctive mood.

By now, you will have noticed that both the optative and the subjunctive are used to express desires and wishes, and this is why they can be difficult to tell apart.

Optative vs Subjunctive

The key difference between the two is that the subjunctive is most often used to talk about hypothetical situations or things that have not yet happened whereas the optative is used to express desires and wishes, hopes, and prayers.

Examples of subjunctive sentences:

  • 'If I were in your position, I would do it.'(hypothetical situation)
  • 'I propose we get Mary to present the results of the study.'(something that has not yet happened)
  • 'If he were to propose to me, I'd say yes.'(hypothetical situation)
  • 'I suggest he joins in the discussion.'(something that has not yet happened)

Examples of optative sentences:

  • 'I wish it were possible for me to fly.' (a wish or desire)
  • 'May you be happy in your marriage!' (a wish or hope for someone else)
  • 'Long live the Queen!' (a prayer)
  • 'If only I knew how to how to bake.'(a desire or wish)

Optative sentences can also be used as curses (although unless you're a witch, it won't be very often that you curse people!)

  • 'May he be struck down by lightning!'
  • 'Let him know no peace!'

Release your inner witch and try to come up with some of your own curses!

Optative words and features

The optative mood is not very commonly used in English, or at least not as commonly as in other languages such as Greek and Sanskrit, which can make it tricky to identify. However, there are some words and features you can look out for to see if a sentence is optative:

  • certain modal verbs are commonly associated with the optative mood: e.g. 'may', 'would', 'should', 'could', 'might'.

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs (verbs added to the main verb) that are used to express possibility or probability.

  • The structure 'if only' is a common feature of optative sentences: e.g. 'If only I had studied more!'

  • Sometimes, the optative mood can be created by leaving out certain words (such as the modal verbs described above) in such a way that the utterance is still understood in context: e.g. '(May you) Have a lovely birthday!'

  • The use of 'let's' or 'let us' can also signal an optative sentence: e.g. 'Let's give it a go!', 'Let us be alright.'

Try to write two or three more examples for each of these rules. This should give you some good practice at creating optative sentences.

The optative mood can be identified by looking for sentences expressing wishes, hope, or prayers, Pixabay

Optative - Key takeaways

  • Grammatical moods are grammatical features applied to verbs in order to make the meaning of the verbs clear according to how the speaker or writer intended.
  • There are five main grammatical moods: imperative, interrogative, conditional, indicative, and subjunctive, and each has a different grammatical function.
  • There are additional grammatical moods: the optative and the potential, but neither is used very often in English.
  • The optative mood is used to express wishes, desires, hopes, prayers, and curses, and is quite similar in many ways to the subjunctive mood.
  • The optative mood can be identified by the use of certain modal verbs, the 'if only' structure, and the use of 'let's' or 'let us'.

Optative

'May you have every success.' is an example of an optative sentence because it contains the modal verb 'may', and it expresses a wish or hope.

Subjunctive is used to indicate something that is possible or hypothetical (e.g. 'If I weren't tone deaf, I'd sing in a choir')  whereas an optative is used to express a choice or wish (e.g. 'Long may you prosper!')

The three moods in English include the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive.  

The indicative mood is used to convey facts: 

e.g. 'It is raining outside.'


The imperative mood is used to give commands or requests:

e.g. 'Please help wash the dishes.'


The subjunctive mood is used to convey desires, wishes, or proposals:

e.g. 'If I were coming to the party, I'd bring the salad.'

An imperative is an utterance that gives a command or request, whereas an optative is an utterance that expresses a wish or choice. 

Final Optative Quiz

Question

What is a 'grammatical mood'?

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Answer

A grammatical mood is a feature of grammar applied to verbs that is used to show how the verb is meant to be perceived or understood. 

Show question

Question

What is the subjunctive mood used for?

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Answer

The subjunctive mood is used to express wishes, suggestions or obligations relating to hypothetical situations or situations that have not happened yet.

Show question

Question

What is the interrogative mood used for?

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Answer

The interrogative mood is used to ask questions or gain information.

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Question

What is the indicative mood used for?

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Answer

The indicative mood is used to state a fact or something that is believed to be factual.

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Question

What is the imperative mood used for?

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Answer

The imperative mood is used to give instructions or commands, or to make a request.

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Question

What is the conditional mood used for?

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Answer

The conditional mood is used to express situations that rely on certain conditions.

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Question

What are the additional grammatical moods called?

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Answer

The optative and the potential.

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Question

What is the potential mood used for?

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Answer

The potential mood is used to demonstrate how the writer or speaker believes something is likely to happen.

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Question

What is the optative mood used for?

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Answer

The optative mood is used to express wishes, desires, hopes, or curses. 

Show question

Question

Give four examples of modal verbs.

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Answer

Any of the below choices:

  • would
  • could
  • should
  • may
  • might
  • can
  • will

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Question

Which of these structures is often used in the optative mood?

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Answer

'Let us'

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Question

What mood commonly uses the 'if only' structure?

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Answer

The optative mood

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Question

Which language uses the optative mood more?

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Answer

Greek

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Question

Which of these is not a grammatical mood?

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Answer

Informal

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