The Subjunctive Mood

There are three moods in English: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

- the indicative mood is the most common, used when we make factual statements
  or ask questions;
- the imperative mood is limited to sentences that give orders or directions.

The subjunctive mood, however, is used when we express:

- ideas contrary to fact; and
- requests, demands and proposals

Here are some examples:

Indicative mood              Subjunctive mood

She listens to me             I suggest that he listen to me/that he follow orders
They are ready               She suggested that they be ready
He was impatient           If he were impatient, he would not be suited for the job

Usually the words "if" or "that" precede the clause in the subjunctive mood, but these signals may be omitted, so take care you see through the meaning of the sentence.

More examples:

1) ideas that are not facts or just wishes or conditions:
    a) He talks about it as if he were in the know of things [not a fact, he isn't]
    b) If you were the only girl in the world, and (if) I were the only boy [wish]
    c) He was hired on the condition that he be ready to work at any time of day [con]

2) requests, demands, and proposals
    a) They request that we be in time for the beginning of the concert (or they won't
        admit us)
    b) The statutes of the fraternity demand that every student wear a cap
    c) She proposed that a motion be made to change the present rules

In the subjunctive mood, the third person singular  "-(e)s"  is dropped.


Although it doesn't always show in the form of the verb,
the subjunctive mood is used in the sentences below:

I suggest that you study the following list of verbs that request that you use/request you to use the subjunctive mood.  If everybody were as diligent as you, s/he might also be writing correct English.

Here's a list of verbs that are often followed by clauses with subjunctive verbs:

move (= suggest)

Instead of the subjunctive form of the main verb, the auxiliary verbs could, would, and should are often used to help a verb express the subjunctive mood:

w/ auxiliary verb                                      subjunctive form
If the future could be clear...      compare "If the future were clear..."
If someone would escort her...   compare "If someone were to escort her..."
If you should leave me...            compare "If you were to leave me..."


The verb "may" does not in itself require a subjunctive mood since it does not necessarily express ideas contrary to fact or a request, a demand, or a proposal; but
note the following examples:

  bad                                   better                                  good
"This is maybe true"         "Maybe this is true"           "This may be true"

"This might be true" expresses a further uncertainty.

Might is also used to express extreme politeness:

ok:               Can I use your phone?  [you take it for granted that you can]
polite:          May I use your phone? [a polite question]
very polite:  Might I (possibly) use your phone?
                    [shows you are prepared for a denial]

October 2000
Erik Moldrup