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A Quick Guide to Subjunctive Mood in the English Language!

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Subjunctive mood is one of the trickier grammar topics in English. Many of us have encountered this topic in school but have forgotten its usage as it is not frequently used in spoken English. Subjunctive mood is often tested on the SAT and GMAT, so how about refreshing our grammar rules?

Before we delve into subjunctive mood, let’s take a quick look at grammatical mood. The term “mood” refers to certain verb forms that help express the subjective attitude of the speaker or writer. English has two grammatical moods: the indicative and the subjunctive. The indicative mood is used to express facts or opinions, and ask questions. It is the most common mood by far. Most sentences in English are in the indicative mood, including every sentence in the first paragraph of this article, for example.

The subjunctive mood is used to express possibility rather than actuality. So we use the subjunctive with conditions that are contrary to fact, hypothetical, or wishful; with demands and suggestions; and with statements of necessity. The key difference between indicative mood and subjunctive mood is a change in the form of a given verb: ‘Am’ or ‘was’ is supplanted by ‘were’, ‘be’ takes the place of ‘are’, or singular active verbs lose their -s or -es endings. In conversation, it is common for speakers to fail to distinguish between the moods, but in careful writing, the distinction must be made. There are six forms in which sentences in subjunctive mood can be framed.

1. Counterfactual

In this, the writer expresses a notion contrary to fact. Example: If I were the president, things would be different.

 

2. Imperative

This is used for giving commands or demanding something. Example: I demand that she walk away.

 

3. Necessity

This subjunctive mood refers to requirement. Example: It is necessary that you be on the conference call tomorrow.

 

4. Proposition

This category applies to proposals. Example: It was proposed that the boy stay in the house.

 

5. Supposition

In this form, the writer expresses a possibility. Example: If I were to accept the position, I’d have to relocate.

 

6. Wish

This type of subjunctive mood deals with expressions of desire. Example: I wish Jim were able to play in the school’s football team.

 

SAT/GMAT Applications

The SAT and GMAT test the subjunctive mood in two basic ways—hypothetical statements and demands or suggestions. Hypothetical statement involve pairing were and would. Here are some examples.

If I were taller, I would have played basketball.

Alan would have better grades if he were a more motivated student.

Were I to find some work, I would not have wasted my time watching television.

The key is that ‘were’ should always be attached to the hypothetical condition, and ‘would’ should always be attached to the consequence.

The other way subjunctive mood is tested is with sentences that express demands or suggestions. So keep an eye out for verbs such as insist, recommend, demand, suggest, require, request, mandate, propose, order, prefer etc. Here are some examples of such sentences.

I insisted that my son drink the milk before going to bed.

The teacher recommends that she read this book.

The contract mandates that the employee wear his uniform all the time.

I propose that you be the leader for our team.

The key here is that in order to put the second verb in the subjunctive mood, we have to use the simplest base form of the verb. The subjunctive verbs in the above sentences are, respectively, drink, read, wear and be.

Keep the above mentioned situations in mind and you’ll be in good shape to recognize subjunctive sentences and construct them correctly! All the best!

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Applicable for ISAT/UKCAT/BMAT/MCAT courses