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Situations Requiring the Subjunctive Mood

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Let’s explore the modern uses of the subjunctive mood.

1. situations contrary to fact 2. wishes 3. suppositions 4. commands

1. Situations Contrary to Fact

Let’s look at the contrary-to-fact situation, which usually entails using the subjunctive mood of the verb to be. The all-time classic everyone knows is:

If I were you . . . .

Quite clearly I am not you. But if I were you . . . .

You do not use the subjunctive to express a lack of knowledge. You would not say I wondered if he were there? Here the words if and wonder show the doubt. Thus, the indicative mood was would be correct:

I wondered if he was there.

Instead, you would use the subjunctive when you know that the contrary is the fact. Suppose you know that he was not there. Thus, you’d use the subjunctive:

He acted as if he were there.

To take another example, suppose you know he was sick. Then you’d say:

If he was so sick, why didn’t he go to the doctor?

But suppose you know he was not sick. To express a situation contrary to this fact or to show a hypothetical situation, you’d say:

If he were sick, he would have called the doctor.

The above examples all use were with a singular subject to show the subjunctive. In today’s writing, we rarely see the use of the main verb be to show the subjunctive mood of am, is, are. These uses are archaic or form traditional idioms:

be that as it may …. If God be for us, who can be against us? far be it from me ….

We will see correct and modern uses of be to show compulsion, however. Keep reading.

Click page 2 below. 2. Wishes and Suppositions

Subjunctive constructions of the verb to be also show wishes and suppositions: I wish I were able to help him out; If he were to go, he would not finish his homework.

3. Showing Compulsion

Let’s take the compulsion situation. Look at this sentence:

The parents’ strict rule requires that their child complete her homework before watching television.

Child complete? She complete? Sound strange? Not at all if you wish to show compulsion. You simply use the subjunctive mood: You put the base infinitive form, which is also the plural form, of complete with the singular noun she. Or, as some grammarians might say, you form the subjunctive for the third-person singular by leaving off the ‑s, ‑es, or ‑ies endings.

The use of be in the subjunctive does crop up in situations requiring a showing of compulsion:

The policy requires that the paper be submitted to the professor personally. The regulations require that the application be complete.

4. Suggestions and Necessity

Consider the use of the subjunctive to show suggestions and necessity:

The golf pro suggested that he practice his swing each day. This emergency requires that they be there.


Previous: Forming the Subjunctive Mood

Next: Back to Our Robin Cook Examples

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