Home   |   TOPIC LIST   |   About   |   Contact

Subjunctive mood

This is a tricky mood to both identify and to use properly. One situation where it pops up is when you’re dealing with you or someone else talking about what other people have ordered or decided or requested. Take this sentence for example:

John’s teacher ordered that the students stay after school to write lines.

The verb ‘stay’ is in the subjunctive mood in this sentence. It is being used to describe what the students have been ordered to do. Here’s another example:

The government decided that the trade routes be closed indefinitely.

In this sentence, the verb ‘closed’ is in the subjunctive mood. It’s part of the sentence that describes what the government has decided is going to happen. Both of these sentences show how we get the subjunctive mood when we’re describing will happen as a result of a decision, order, or request.

The other big use of the subjunctive mood is when you want to talk about something that isn’t currently true or is uncertain, or something that is desired or wished for. For instance:

Matt wished he had run faster in the race.

The verb that actually says the thing that is not true or uncertain is the one in the subjunctive mood. In this case, we have two verbs - ‘wished’ and the compound verb ‘had run’. In this sentence the verb ‘had run’ is a subjunctive verb because it talks about what Matt could have done in the race but didn’t (i.e., run faster). The verb ‘wished’ is in the normal indicative mood.

Handy Hint - Subtle differences

Be careful when you’re dealing with the subjunctive mood. Here’s an example of a grammatically incorrect sentence:

Jennifer requested that the fan is turned off.

The first time I came across a sentence like this, it didn’t really look wrong to me at all. I tried reading it out aloud, and it sounded a little bit funny, however. The first part of the sentence should set alarm bells off in your head - ‘Jennifer requested’. ‘Requested’, ‘demanded’, ‘decided’, ‘recommended’ are all verbs that are followed by the subjunctive mood. So what did Jennifer request?

that the fan is turned off.

Here’s where the problem is with the sentence. Jennifer is requesting something which has not actually happened yet. So we can’t use the expression ‘is turned off’. We have to use an expression that represents the fact that this is something that Jennifer would like to happen but that has not happened yet. We need to change it to:

that the fan be turned off.

The ‘be turned off’ bit correctly represents that this is what Jennifer would like to happen. Now the overall sentence is:

Jennifer requested that the fan be turned off.