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Subjunctive mood

Subjunctive mood is a concept that explores imaginary or hypothetical situations. In this article, let us understand the basics of subjunctive mood. It is a fairly advanced topic so read the article till you get the knack of it!

  Ramya Shankar  —  Grammar Tips
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What is mood? – a mood is a form a verb takes to show how it (the verb) should be regarded. For example, command, wish, request etc…

Subjunctive moods tell about a wish or suggestion. Subjunctive sentences are not true and are based on certain assumptions and hypothetical analysis.

They are quite useful in various scenarios –

·         A non-existent situation. Example – If I were you, I wouldn’t call her again.

·         Express desire – I wish I can take you out for a movie.

·         Commands and demands – He demanded that she divorce him because none of them was able to adjust.

·         Suggestions – The authorities suggest that the movie be shown in all colleges to create awareness.

Note that in the fourth sentence, we use ‘she divorce’, which is different from the usual third person + verb with ‘s’. in other cases, we would use ‘she divorces’. This, along with the word ‘demand’ is one way to distinguish subjunctive mood.

Same way, in the fifth sentence, we use ‘movie be shown’ in place of ‘is shown’. This, along with the word ‘suggest’ indicates subjunctive.

Let us consider some non-subjunctive sentences and then convert them to know the difference

1. Non – She is a good dancer.

Subj – I wish that she dance well.

2. Non – I am paid in dollars.

Subj – I insist I be paid in dollars.

3. Non – she was intelligent enough to solve issues.

Subj – I wish she were intelligent enough to solve issues.

In the above sentences, I wish & I insist can be considered as hypothetical situations that were/are not true. Notice that the verb form changes, for example from am to be, was to were. Few verbs that we mostly use with subjunctives are insist, wish, propose, recommend, suggest, demand, command, order and ask.

There are some adjectives too that can define the subjunctive mood. Example

·         It is essential that she be taken to the hospital.

·         It is important that he complete his work on time.

·         It is crucial that the parcel reach Delhi on time.

As we see, the key is the verb without the -s, which is different from the non-subjunctive case.

Subjunctive mood vs conditionals

Second conditionals are related to subjunctives, because they are based on imaginary situations –

·         If I were you, I would take that job offer.

·         If I had the powers, I would eradicate poverty from the country.

·         If I knew the answer, I would tell you.

In the above cases, the result is in conditional (can be true based on conditions), while the condition is in the subjunctive (the if clause, which cannot be true).

Subjunctives are used in formal sentences. Subjunctives find less use in daily conversations because auxiliaries and modals are more popular and easier to understand and use. Hope this article gave you a good basic understanding.

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