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Subjunctive Mood

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Subjunctive Mood

We've all heard the term 'in a mood', but have you heard about 'grammatical mood'? Despite its name, grammatical mood does not refer to our emotions or feelings. Instead, it refers to the use of verb forms and how they show the purpose of a sentence.

One of the main types of grammatical mood in the English Language is the subjunctive mood. Let's delve deeper into grammatical mood and the subjunctive, looking at how it is formed, how we recognise it, and considering plenty of examples.

Grammatical Mood

So what exactly is grammatical mood?

Grammatical mood refers to the use of verb forms to show how the sentence should be understood (e.g. whether it is a fact, a wish, a question, a command, or a condition).

We can recognise grammatical mood by looking at the use of verbs and verb forms. These help to indicate the purpose of the sentence and how it should be perceived by the reader/listener.

Types and examples of grammatical mood

There are 5 main types of mood in the English language. These are:

  • Indicative- stating a fact or belief (e.g. Paris is the capital of France).
  • Imperative- making requests or commands (e.g. Don't sit there!)
  • Subjunctive- expressing a hypothetical situation, wish, possibility, suggestion (e.g. if I were rich, I'd buy a beach-side villa).
  • Interrogative- asking questions (e.g. Are you coming with us later?)
  • Conditional- state conditions and make requests (e.g. If I get this work done, can we go out for dinner?).

There are also other types of grammatical moods in English such as the 'optative' and the 'potential' moods which are less common. If we start looking at other languages, we'll find even more moods that have different uses and express different meanings.

Grammatical mood is different from other grammatical categories such as grammatical tense and grammatical aspect. Whilst all 3 give extra information in speech and writing, each category gives a different kind of information:

  • Grammatical mood shows how the sentence should be understood.
  • Grammatical tense shows whether an action happened in the past, present, or future.
  • Grammatical aspect shows whether the action is ongoing, repeated, or completed.

Subjunctive Mood

In this article, we will talk about a grammatical mood called the 'subjunctive mood'.

Subjunctive mood meaning

The subjunctive mood expresses a wish, obligation, possibility, or suggestion. It usually refers to a hypothetical situation that has not yet happened and is not guaranteed to happen.

The subjunctive mood is more common in formal situations. However, it is on the decline, becoming less and less common in English and many other languages.

Subjunctive Mood thought bubble StudySmarterThe subjunctive mood expresses hypothetical situations. (Pexels)

Subjunctive Mood Examples

Let's look at a few examples of the subjunctive mood in a sentence:

'John wishes he were rich and famous' (expressing a wish)

'It's important that you all be here tomorrow' (expressing an obligation)

'If I work hard I could go to Thailand in summer' (expressing a possibility)

'It is recommended that she go to the dentist this week' (expressing a suggestion)

All of these examples express a hypothetical situation that has not yet occurred. They, therefore, use the subjunctive mood and we can recognise this from the use of certain verb forms.

The subjunctive mood can also be used to explore conditionals. For example:

If I were rich, I would end world hunger.

If I were really tall, I'd be able to reach the top shelf.

The subjunctive mood and conditional mood have a similar form and can be used in very similar ways. The main difference between the two is that conditional mood is used more for real-life conditions e.g. if it rains, I will go home, whereas subjunctive is for used more unrealistic conditions e.g. if I were famous, I'd live in Hollywood.

Subjunctive Form

So how exactly do we recognise the subjunctive mood in a sentence? And how is the subjunctive formed?

How do we recognise the subjunctive?

There are a few recognisable forms that characterise the subjunctive.

1/ The use of the bare form of the verb

We are able to recognise the subjunctive mood in a sentence by the use of the bare form of the verb. This means that the verb is not altered by verb endings (inflections), regardless of the tense, person, or number. For example, 'love', 'dance', and 'eat' are base forms of verbs as they are not altered by tense (e.g. 'danced'), the person (e.g. he 'dances'), or number.

An example of the bare form of a verb in a subjunctive sentence would be:

'I suggested that she join the party tomorrow.'

In this example, we see a sentence in the subjunctive mood. It expresses a suggestion and refers to something that has not yet happened. We therefore see the use of the bare form of the verb ‘join’ rather than the inflected verb ‘joins’.

You've probably heard of the common saying 'God bless you', but did you know that this is another example of the subjunctive mood? It refers to a wish, meaning 'may God bless you'.

2/ The use of 'were'

Another common saying in the subjunctive mood is 'if I were you'. We say this when we are referring to a hypothetical and conditional situation.

For example, if someone has offered you a soggy pizza you may offer a suggestion by saying 'I'd cook it for another 10 minutes if I were you'.

The use of the verb 'were' in place of 'was', i.e. saying 'if I were you' instead of 'if I was you', is characteristic of the subjunctive. We use 'were' regardless of the person, meaning that we would say 'if he were you', 'if we were you', 'if they were you', and so on.

When discussing hypothetic situations we use the past subjunctive. This means that the verb 'goes back' one place to the past form.

'I wish (present tense) I ran (past tense) quicker'.

'We wish (present tense) we had (past tense) a car'.

'Leo wishes (present tense) he were (past tense) rich and famous'.

2/ The use of 'be'

The subjunctive mood is also characterised by the use of the verb form 'be'. This is often used to give a demand or a suggestion.

'It is necessary that he be here at 12 tomorrow'.

'The boss has suggested that you be present at the meeting'.

In these examples, the verb 'to be' remains as 'be' e.g. 'he be here' rather than 'he is here'.

4/ The use of 'that', 'if', or 'wish'.

Finally, the use of the words 'that', 'if', or 'wish' are common in the subjunctive mood. They usually occur in phrases that express a wish, demand, suggestion, condition, or hypothetical situation.

  • 'I wish I had a dog.'
  • 'If I were you I'd buy a Dalmatian.'
  • 'It is necessary that you walk it every day.'
  • 'It is important that you feed it too.'

As you can see in the examples, the word 'if' is often used when expressing a hypothetical situation that is imaginary ('if I were you') or a condition ('if you don't'). The word 'that' is often used in suggestions ('it is important that') or obligations ('it is necessary that'). These are all examples of the subjunctive mood.

However, it is important to remember that this is not a consistent way of recognising the subjunctive mood. Whilst it is a good start for recognising the subjunctive mood, sentences in other grammatical moods may also contain the words 'that', 'if', or 'wish'.

Subjunctive Clause

The subjunctive mood is often used in sentences that consist of two or more clauses.

A clause is group of words that consists of at least a subject (the person, place, or thing which is the 'doer' of the action) and a verb (action/state of being). For example, 'Ellie (subject) climbed (verb) the tall tree'.

In the subjunctive, one clause usually consists of a subjunctive verb whilst the other clause consists of an indicative verb (a verb that makes a statement). These work together to form the subjunctive mood.

For example:

'I wish I were on holiday right now'

In this sentence, the clause 'I wish' expresses a statement (indicative mood) whilst the subjunctive verb 'were' expresses the subjunctive mood.

'They suggested that he visit the zoo'

In this sentence, the clause 'they suggested' expresses a statement (indicative mood) whilst the subjunctive verb 'visit' (which is the base form of the verb) expresses the subjunctive mood.

Subjunctive Tense

We always refer to the subjunctive as a mood not a tense. There are only three tenses- the past, the present, and the future. We can however combine tense and mood to form the past subjunctive, the present subjunctive, and the future subjunctive.

If you speak other languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian you may have come across the subjunctive. Different languages use different verb forms and sentence constructions to express the subjunctive mood.

Subjunctive - Key Takeaways

  • Grammatical mood is a verb category that gives information about how the sentence should be understood.
  • There are 5 main types of mood in the English language: indicative (stating a fact or belief), imperative (making requests or commands), subjunctive (expressing a hypothetical situation, wish, possibility, suggestion), interrogative (asking questions), conditional (state conditions and make requests).
  • The subjunctive mood expresses a wish, obligation, possibility, or suggestion. It usually refers to a hypothetical situation that has not yet happened and is not guaranteed to happen.
  • We can recognise the subjunctive from the use of the bare form of the verb, the use of 'were', the use of 'be', the use of 'that', 'if', or 'wish'.
  • The subjunctive mood is often used in sentences that consist of two or more clauses, one which is subjunctive and the other which is indicative.

Frequently Asked Questions about Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood. It expresses a wish, obligation, possibility, or suggestion. It usually refers to a hypothetical situation that has not yet happened and is not guaranteed to happen. 

The subjunctive is a verb form that indicate the purpose of the sentence and how it should be perceived by the reader/listener.

The subjunctive mood is often used in sentences that consist of two or more clauses. One clause usually consists of a subjunctive verb whilst the other clause consists of an indicative verb (a verb that makes a statement). These work together to form the subjunctive mood. 

There are a few recognisable forms that characterise the subjunctive. These are: the use of the bare form of the verb, the use of 'were', the use of 'be', the use of 'that', 'if', or 'wish'.

Other words related to 'subjunctive' include 'subjunctive mood' and 'subjunctive verb.'

Final Subjunctive Mood Quiz

Question

The subjunctive is a grammatical tense. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood. True or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

The subjunctive is a grammatical aspect. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Grammatical mood refers to the use of ________ to show how the sentence should be understood. Fill in the blanks. 

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Answer

Verbs

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Question

Grammatical mood indicates the purpose of a sentence and how it should be perceived by the reader/listener. True or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

Grammatical mood shows whether the sentence is in the past, present, or future. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

How many main types of grammatical mood are there?

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Answer

5

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Question

What does the subjunctive mood express?

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Answer

A wish, obligation, suggestion, or hypothetical situation.

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Question

Which of the following are examples of the subjunctive mood?

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Answer

Chloe wishes she were in the Maldives.

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Question

Which of the following are examples of the subjunctive mood?

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Answer

If I were rich, I would buy a yacht.

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Question

Name 2 ways we can recognise the subjunctive. 

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Answer

We can recognise the subjunctive from:

  • the use of the bare form of the verb
  • the use of 'were'
  • the use of 'be'
  • the use of 'that', 'if', or 'wish'.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is the bare form of the verb?

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Answer

Play

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a way of recognising the subjunctive?

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Answer

the use of ‘was’

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Question

The subjunctive mood is often used in sentences that consist of two or more clauses. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

In the subjunctive, one clause usually consists of a subjunctive verb while the other consists of an ____________ verb (a verb that makes a statement). These work together to form the subjunctive mood. 

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Answer

Indicative

Show question

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