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The subjunctive mood in English is a very unique and relatively rare verb form that expresses something desired or imagined.
It is a subject that is often overlooked or even skipped, resulting in its misuse or total avoidance. We can consider the subjunctive a bit inconspicuous; it appears subtly in phrases and indirectly over conditional subjects such as unreal conditional types.
Using the subjunctive efficiently can provide a great variation in our language and can lead to better-refined speech and writing; it is like icing on the cake!
We use the subjunctive mainly when talking about events that are not certain to happen. For example, we use the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody:
Form of base subjunctiveForming the base subjunctive is very simple – it is simply the basic infinitive without ‘to’. For example: be, have, do, go, sing, work. The base subjunctive does not use any other forms (goes, sings, works). This table shows the base subjunctive in all persons, using the verbs be, work and sing as examples:
|he, she, it||be||have||do|
suggest – verb / noun + that
suggest, advise, ask, command, demand, desire, insist, order, prefer, propose, recommend, request
suggestion, command, demand, order, proposal, recommendation, request
|2. advisable / anxious – adjective + that|
|advisable, best, crucial, desirable, essential, imperative, important, necessary, unthinkable, urgent, vital|
anxious, adamant, determined, eager, keen
Look at these sentences which include examples of the above:
|main clause suggest-verb||that clause with subjunctive|
|He||will suggest (future)||that||you||be||present during the call.|
|The board||recommend (present)||that||she||join||the firm.|
|He||requested (past)||that||the motorcycle||not||be||parked in front.|
|main clause suggest-noun||that clause with subjunctive|
|She made (past) a||suggestion||that||we||arrive||earlier.|
|He made (past) a||proposal||that||the company||buy||more land.|
|The CEO has issued (present perfect) an||order||that||the secretary||resign||next month.|
|main clause advisable-adjective||that clause with subjunctive|
|It is (present)||advisable||that||he||take off||for a week.|
|It was (past)||essential||that||the forces||make||an advancement.|
|It will be (future)||vital||that||every soldier||not||use||a radio.|
|main clause anxious-adjective||that clause with subjunctive|
More examples including that clauses in negative and continuous forms:
- Have you seen my suggestion that our work hours be reduced?
- The judge ordered that he stay the execution.
- I’ve requested that I not be disturbed.
- It is important that a taxi be waiting when we arrive.
- The manager was eager that his visitor see the new attraction.
- The board recommended that he not be reprimanded.
be after if
We sometimes use subjunctive be after if/whether, though this is rather formal, especially in British English:
|If that||be||(not)||the case,||I intend to report the matter.|
|Whether he||be||prepared or not,|
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.William Shakespeare
Note the following fixed expressions with the subjunctive:
- Bless you!
- God bless America!
- God save the Queen.
- Long live the President!
- Heaven forbid!
- Heaven help us!
- Peace be with you.
were – Subjunctive
Form of were-subjunctive
|were – subjunctive|
|he, she, it||were|
Use of were – subjunctive
In the following examples, you can see that we sometimes use the were-subjunctive (instead of was) after:
- as if
Note that in these cases were is always correct, but was is possible in informal language:
|Formal with were||Informal with was|
|I would go if I were younger.||I would go if I was younger.|
|If he were not so mean, he would buy one.||If he wasn’t so mean, he would buy one.|
|I’d tell her if I were you.||We do not normally say “if I was you” even in colloquial language.|
|It’s not as if I were ugly.||It’s not as if I was ugly.|
|She acts as if she were the Queen.||She acts as if she was the Queen.|
|I wish I weren’t so slow!||I wish I wasn’t so slow!|
|I wish the computer were working.||I wish the computer was working.|
|Suppose she were here. What would you say?||Suppose she was here. What would you say?|
Wish you were here -Pink Floyd
If I Were a Rich Man –Fiddler on the Roof
If I were a boy –Beyoncé
May you put your skills to the test!
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1. It’s important that she (remember) to take her medicine twice a day.
2. I suggest that Frank (read) the directions carefully before assembling the bicycle. He doesn’t want the wheels to fall off while he is riding down a hill
3. Mrs. Finkelstein demanded that the heater (repair) immediately. Her apartment was freezing.
4. It’s vital that the United States (focus) on improving its public education system. What we do now will affect our country for generations to come.
5. The monk insisted that the tourists (enter) the temple until they had removed their shoes.
6. I am not going to sit here and let her insult me. I demand that she immediately (apologize) for what she just said.
7. Judy asked that we (attend) her graduation ceremony next week.
8. Was it really necessary that I (sit) there watching you the entire time you were rehearsing for the play? It was really boring watching you repeat the scenes over and over again.
9. It is important to remember that Janine (think) very differently from you. She may not agree to the changes you have made in the organization of the company.
10. It’s a little difficult to find the restaurant. I propose that we all (drive) together so that nobody gets lost along the way.
11. The woman insisted that the lost child (take) store’s information desk so his parents could be paged.
12. The nutritionist recommended that Sally (reduce) her daily fat intake.
13. The environmental leader felt it was extremely important that the people of the city (allow) to voice their concerns over the new hotel being built on the bay.
14. She told me that the government (regulate) the airline industry. I don’t know if that is true.
15. The sign at the pool recommended that you (swim) after eating a large meal.
16. It is necessary that a life guard (monitor) the summing pool while the children are taking their swimming lessons.
17. The sun is scorching today. I suggest you (put) on sunblock immediately before you get a sun burn.
18. John insists that Sarah (invite) to the wedding; otherwise he will not attend.
19. I think it’s an interesting fact that she (come) from Estonia.
20. It’s imperative that the world (work) towards a solution to global warming before the weather patterns of the world are disrupted irreparably.