Today I wanted to invite a guest blogger and fellow editor, Alicia, to discuss something I find a lot of my authors and tutoring students struggling with: the subjunctive mood. So, without further ado, here’s Alicia!

The Subjunctive Mood

Hello everyone! Many thanks to Sarah for having me on her blog today. I’ve already covered the literary present tense on my own blog, so now I’m going to cover the subjunctive mood.

What is a mood?

Moods are indicated by verbs to help show how the sentence should be perceived. There are three moods in English. A sentence in the indicative mood makes statements or asks questions—remember, it indicates things. The imperative mood makes a request or a command. Think: It is imperative that you do this. Lastly, the subjunctive mood shows a wish or doubt. I don’t have a handy memory aid for this one, but hopefully the rest of this post explains it well enough.

When is the subjunctive mood used?

It is generally used to express:

  • something not known to be factual
  • doubt
  • a conditional
  • an imaginary situation

There are a number of more specific cases in which it is used. Let’s have some examples.

It is used to insist.

“I insist that you rake the leaves outside.”

It is used to wish.

“I wish it weren’t so cold out.”

It is used to recommend.

“I recommend that you put the lights up tonight.”

It is used to request.

“I request that you both bring a dessert to the potluck.”

It is used with hypotheticals.

“If we were to travel this winter, we would go to Florida.”

It is used to make statements of necessity.

“It is important that we bake these cookies in time for the cookie exchange.”

In addition to these, the subjunctive mood can also be used to ask, demand, determine, order, pray, prefer, regret, require, and suggest.

How do we change verbs to indicate the subjunctive mood?

There are two types of verbs that change to indicate the subjunctive. The first type is “to be” verbs in both present and past tense.

In the present tense, all forms of “to be” change to just “be.”

“I suggest that you be punctual for our outing this evening.”

“Were” is used instead of “was.”

“If she were here, she would teach me how to ice skate.”

The second type is all present tense verbs in the third person singular.

“It is necessary that he buy presents now, while they are on sale.”

I think that it is easier to make sense of this if you imagine that there is a “should” in front of the verb. For instance, “I suggest that you should buy present now.” It sounds more natural with the auxiliary in there. In fact, I wrote a whole post on the reasoning behind this.

There are a few ways that subjunctive verbs change or don’t change based on tense. Explore some of the sites in the Further Reading section below.


I hope this was helpful to you! If you’d like to read more posts about language, linguistics, grammar, editing, writing, and more, check out my blog.

For further reading:

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