Subjunctive Mood in English with Examples

Subjunctive mood in English with Example Sentences
Subjunctive mood in English with Example Sentences

In English, we have three main moods in grammar: the indicative (which deals with facts or reality), the subjunctive (used for hypothetical situations), and the imperative. The subjunctive mood is used to express hypothetical situations, wishes, suggestions, or desires. 

What is Subjunctive Mood?

The subjunctive mood is a way of expressing hypothetical situations, desires, wishes, doubts, or possibilities in language. It’s commonly used when talking about things that may not be true or certain.

For example

  • I wish I were taller.
  • If I were rich, I would travel the world.
  • She must be here on time.

Forms of Subjunctive Mood

Basic Structure

Base Form of Verb: The subjunctive mood often involves using a base form of the verb, which is different from the indicative mood.

It typically does not include adding an “-s” or “-es” to the verb for third person singular subjects.

  • It’s crucial that he arrive on time.
  • She recommended that he study harder.

Present Subjunctive

Base Form of Verb: Use the base form of the verb (without “-s” or “-es”).

  • It’s essential that she be here on time.
  • They demanded that he pay immediately.

Past Subjunctive

Past Tense Form of Verb: Use the past tense form of the verb (without adding “-ed” for regular verbs).

  • If I were rich, I would travel the world.
  • I wish he were here with us.

Conditional Clauses

Use of “If”: Used to express hypothetical conditions.

  • If it were sunny, we would go for a picnic.
  • If she were taller, she could reach the top shelf.

Wishes and Desires

Introductory Verbs: Often introduced by verbs like wish, desire, or hope.

  • I wish she were more understanding.
  • They hope he be successful in his endeavors.

Modal Verbs

Must, Should, Would: Used to express necessity, obligation, or preference.

  • She must be here on time.
  • It’s essential that he should arrive early.

Imperative Mood

Implied Subjunctive: In commands or requests, the subjunctive mood is often implied.

  • Let him be happy.
  • I suggest you go now.

Verb Agreement

Consistency: Subjunctive verbs may not agree with the subject in the same way as indicative verbs.


Hypothetical Situations: The subjunctive mood is used for hypothetical situations, wishes, desires, and polite requests.

Examples of subjunctive mood

Wishes and desires

  • I suggest that he come early.
  • She must be present.
  • I wish it were sunny today.
  • If I were rich, I would buy a mansion.
  • She requested that they bring snacks.
  • He must finish his homework.
  • I hope they arrive on time.
  • If she were here, she would help us.

Hypothetical situations

  • If I were a superhero, I would have super strength.
  • If I had wings, I would fly like a bird.
  • If I were invisible, I could sneak into the movies for free.
  • If I were a millionaire, I would buy a big mansion.
  • If I had a time machine, I would visit the dinosaurs.
  • If I could teleport, I would travel the world in seconds.
  • If I were a wizard, I would cast spells to help people.
  • If I were a genie, I would grant unlimited wishes.

Expressing doubts or uncertainty

  • I’m uncertain whether they attend the meeting.
  • I doubt that it rain tomorrow.
  • I’m unsure if they arrive before noon.
  • It’s unlikely that he complete the task by himself.
  • I’m hesitant about whether they approve the proposal.
  • I’m not entirely sure if it be the right decision.
  • It’s doubtful that she be available for the appointment.

Subjunctive Mood: Backshift

When using the subjunctive mood, verbs often change form. This process is commonly referred to as ‘backshift‘. Here are the changes:

  • Am/Is/Are → Be
    • Original: You are confident.
    • Subjunctive: I suggest that you be confident.
    • As you can see, ‘are‘ in the declarative mood is changed to ‘be‘ in the subjunctive mood.
  • Is → Be
    • Original: The rule is clear.
    • Subjunctive: It is essential that the rule be clear.
    • The verb “is” in the declarative mood is changed to “be” in the subjunctive mood to express necessity or importance.
  • Has → Have
    • Original: She has an English degree.
    • Subjunctive: I suggest she have an English degree.
    • Has‘ in the declarative mood is changed to ‘have‘ in the subjunctive mood.
  • Was → Were
    • Original: I was happy.
    • Subjunctive: I wish I were happy.
    • Was‘ in the declarative mood is changed to ‘were‘ in the subjunctive mood.
  • Verbs in the 3rd person singular → The ‘-s’ is omitted
    • Original: He exercises every day.
    • Subjunctive: I suggest he exercise every day.
    • Here, the ‘-s’ in the 3rd person singular verb ‘exercises‘ is omitted when it’s used in the subjunctive mood.

Verb Changes with Subjunctive Mood

This table shows how a verb changes when it’s in the subjunctive mood.

Normal Form Normal Example Subjunctive Form Subjunctive Example
“am,” “are,” “is” (present tense of “to be”) He is happy. I am tall. She is here. be It’s important that he be happy. I suggest I be honest. It’s necessary that she be present.
“has” (third person singular of “to have” in present tense) She has a dog. have It’s essential she have a dog.
“was” (past tense of “to be”) I was tired. He was late. were If I were you, I would help. I wish he were here.
“prepares,” “works,” “sings,” etc. (third-person singular verbs in present tense) She sings beautifully. He prepares breakfast. Base form (remove the s) It’s crucial she sing beautifully. I suggest he prepare breakfast.

Verbs That Attract Subjunctive Mood

Verbs That Attract the Subjunctive Mood

Certain verbs tend to prompt the use of the subjunctive mood. Remember them with the mnemonic COWS-RAID:

Command: When you command someone, you’re giving an authoritative instruction or order.

  • Example: The teacher commands that all students be seated.

Order: Similar to commanding, ordering someone involves giving a directive or instruction.

  • Example: The manager orders that the report be submitted by Friday.

Wish: Wishing for something expresses a desire or hope.

  • Example: I wish that he come to the party.

Suggest: When you suggest something, you’re offering an idea or recommendation.

  • Example: She suggests that they go to the beach.

Recommend: Recommendations are suggestions based on advice or expertise.

  • Example: The doctor recommends that he take medication.

Ask: Asking someone to do something can imply a polite request or a suggestion.

  • Example: She asks that he be quiet during the meeting.

Insist: Insisting on something indicates a strong recommendation or necessity.

  • Example: He insists that she come to the party.

Demand: Demanding something indicates a strong command or requirement.

  • Example: The leader demands that immediate action be taken.

Adjectives That Attract Subjunctive Mood

Certain adjectives, especially when used with the word “that,” often signal the use of the subjunctive mood. Remember them with the mnemonic IN-ICE:

Important: Describes something of significance or importance.

  • Example: It’s important that they complete the project by Friday.

Necessary: Indicates something required or needed.

  • Example: It’s necessary that he provide all the required documents.

Imperative: Expresses a command or necessity.

  • Example: It’s imperative that we take action immediately.

Crucial: Indicates something extremely important or necessary.

  • Example: It’s crucial that she arrive on time.
  • Example: It’s crucial that he submit the report by the deadline.

Essential: Indicates something crucial or indispensable.

  • Example: It’s essential that he be present at the meeting.
  • Example: It’s essential that they follow the safety guidelines.

Vital: Indicates something crucial or indispensable.

  • Example: It’s vital that she receive proper medical attention.

Set Phrases Featuring Subjunctive Mood

Here are some common set phrases featuring the subjunctive mood:

God bless you.

  • I wish that God bless you.

God save the Queen.

  • I wish that God save the Queen.

May The Force be with you. (Star Wars)

  • I hope that The Force be with you.

God forbid.

  • I hope that God forbid.

Long live the king/queen!

  • I wish that the king/queen live long.

Heaven forbid.

  • I hope that heaven forbid.

Come what may.

  • Let come what may.

So be it.

  • Let it be so.

Far be it from me.

  • It is far from me to…

Be that as it may.

  • Be that as it may, I still think we should reconsider our options.

Come what may.

  • We’ll stick together, come what may.

God forbid.

  • God forbid anything bad happens to her on her journey.

If need be.

  • We’ll work overtime if need be to meet the deadline.

Heaven forbid.

  • Heaven forbid that we lose the competition.

Come rain or shine.

  • We’ll be there, come rain or shine.

Come hell or high water.

  • I’ll finish this project, come hell or high water.

As it were.

  • He’s the king of the household, as it were.

Be it as it may.

  • Be it as it may, I’m not convinced we’re making the right decision.

Come what will.

  • We’ll stick together, come what will.

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