12 Jun 2015

Subjunctive mood

The good new is that the subjunctive forms are gradually replaced by normal forms of verbs. The bad is - it has been used for a very long time and there are many subjunctive verbs in literature. Also, some well-educated people still use it. (and the Americans)

Another good news is that part of the subjunctive mood is well-known as expressing wishes and conditionals.

If I were you, I would do it.

This is a piece of advice and therefore it is expressed in the subjunctive mood. Instead of saying 'I was' - 'I were' is used.

Uses of the subjunctive mood

Conditions that are contrary to the fact
If I were you, I would do it. (Second conditional)
He looks as if he were a policeman. (But he is not)
They look as if they were aliens. (They are not, the verb stays the same.)

Conditions that are hypothetical (Second conditional)
If I were to choose a book, I would take this.
Expressing wishes
I wish I were on the Mood right now.

Expressing commands or demands
She demanded that he leave her house.
She demanded that they leave her house.
They asked that he be the first to sing.

Expressing suggestions
I suggest that he write the better essay.
I suggested that he write the better essay.

Making statements of necessity
It is essential that the worker be in work on time.

Certain fixed expressions
as it were, be that as it may be, far be it from me,
heaven forbid, if need be, so be it, suffice it to say

The subjunctive mood is used after certain verbs: ask, demand, determine, insist, move, order, pray, prefer, recommend, regret, request, require, suggest, and wish.
The subjunctive mood is used after the following adjectives: crucial, essential, important, imperative, and necessary.

In modern English, the subjunctive mood is found only in the subordinate clauses. If conditions and wishes are this part of grammar which most students know well; therefore, I will leave it out. 

In English, there is no difference between the subjunctive and normal, or indicative, form of the verb except for the present tense third person singular and for the verb to be. Hence, a verb in the subjunctive mood is a bare infinitive
The subjunctive for the present tense third person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else.The subjunctive mood of the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is. 
Another case where present subjunctive forms are distinguished from indicatives is when they are negated: compare I recommend they not enter the competition (subjunctive) with I hope they do not enter the competition (indicative).

Formulaic subjunctive

Certain expressions usually found in the independent clauses, such as: 'God save the Queen', 'Bless you', 'Heaven help us all'. They convey the meaning of 'let' or 'may'.

Mandative subjunctive

It is used for commands and recommendations. The only difference in grammar is in a third person singular in present tense when a verb loses its -s and when is becomes be. 

I insist (that) he leave now.
We asked that it be done yesterday.
It might be desirable that you not publish the story.
I support the recommendation that they not be punished.
I braked in order that the car stay on the road.
That he appear in court is a necessary condition for his being granted bail.

When the main clause is in the past tense, the subordinate clause remains in the subjunctive mood.

He recommends that she see another specialist.
He recommended that she see another specialist. 

They insist that he be heard by another committee.
They insisted that he be heard by another committee.


I wish he were a better cook. / I wish he would be a better cook.
I wished he were a better cook. / I wished he would have been a better cook.

In American English the subjunctive is a stronghold, whereas in British English is often replaced by structures with should.

Some example of so called the jussive clauses (a kind of imperative)
Be sensible.
You be quiet.
Everybody listen.
Let's forget it.
Heaven help us.
It is important that he keep this a secret.

Another use of the present subjunctive is in clauses with the conjunction lest, which generally express a potential adverse event:

I was worried lest she catch me (i.e. "that she might catch me")
I am running faster lest she catch me (i.e. "in order that she not catch me")

The subjunctive mode is used after certain phrases: I wish, I would rather, If only, It's (high) time. After these phrases, we may use the present tense or the past tense. The difference in the meaning (how much feasible is the situation) is expressed by the tense.

I would rather (that) he were here. (impossible to be done)
I would rather (that) he be here. (feasible)

And a short poem by Emily Dickinson (with subjunctions)

They say that 'time assuages,' —
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.

Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.

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