Subjunctive

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The English subjunctive is used to form sentences that do not describe known unbiased objective facts. The subjunctive mood is used to discover conditional, restrictive or imaginary conditions. The subjunctive mood is also used for statements that are contrary to information, such as If I were an elephant, … (subjunctive), as renowned distinguished from I was an elephant. These include statements about one's state of mind, such as belief, intention, opinion, purpose, view or desire. 

Subjunctive statements often occur in dependent clauses, such as the subjunctive example in the preceding sentence. It contrasts with the indicative mood, which is used for statements of information, such as He speaks English. The tenses of the indicative verbs (wish, necessitated, recommend, is) could change and the subjunctive verb representing the fictional action (were, leave, implement, be) would not change— 

Certain verbs (e.g. demand, insist, recommend, suggest) and adjectives (e.g. essential, important, vital) are followed by ‘that’ + subjunctive (mandative subjunctive) to indicate that something must be done (directive aspect).

“be” in first- and third-person forms of the present tense (“she is” becomes "if she be”). 
“were” in first- and third-person forms of the past tense (“I was” becomes “if I were”). 
“have been” in first- and third-person forms of the present perfect tense  (“he has been” becomes “if he have been”). 

Uses of the subjunctive mood

The Subjunctive is used to emphasize urgency or importance.
  • The subjunctive mood is used to explore conditions that are contrary to fact:
    • If I were Counsellor, I wouldn’t put up with it.
  • It’s used to explore hypotheticals:
    • If I were to sew a sampler, it would say, “Simple is truly best in Freetown.” 
  • It’s used to express wishes:
    • I wish I were there to have a meal with you and Lorraine. 
  • It’s used to express commands or demands:
    • She demanded that he leave the airport premises … 
  • It’s used to express suggestions:
    • I suggest that he implement a financial plan in April.
  • It’s used to make statements of necessity:
    • It’s essential that they be heard …
In short, a verb is in the subjunctive mood when it states a condition which is uncertain or not factual or accurate. It is most often found in a clause beginning with the word if. It is also found in clauses succeeding a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.

These are verbs usually followed by clauses that take the subjunctive:

ask, determine, demand, insist, move, order, prefer, pray, regret, recommend, require, request, suggest, and wish.

Subjunctive is used in some fixed phrases.
  1. God save the Queen!
  2. Long live the King!
  3. Thy will be done.
  4. Be that as it may.


Subjunctive Examples

Examples of the subjunctive mood in English
  1. be that as it may
  2. blessed be !
  3. far be it from me
  4. if it please the court
  5. if need be
  6. truth be told
  7. God bless [you, her, him, them, us every one]
  8. come what may
  9. [God, Heaven] forbid !
  10. perish the thought
  11. God save [the alpacas, the Queen, the King, our merry band]
  12. suffice it to say
Other Examples:
  • If I were a butterfly, I would have wings.
  • You sneezed! God bless you.
  • I suggest that John arrive on Tuesdays this month.
  • She wishes that Americans in the South were more formal today.
  • If he were to bring Mary to Ireland for the honeymoon, she might be upset.
  • A car might crash into his house if he were to build it on Interstate-40.
  • Let that peasant eat cake every day.
  • Dr. Sam asked that Matthew submit his research paper before the end of the month.
  • Deborah requested Franklin come to the party.
  • The teacher insists that her students be on time.
  • It is crucial that you be there before John arrives.
  • It is important she attend the meeting.
  • I suggest that you not take the job without renegotiating the salary.
  • It is important that you be standing there when she gets off the plane.
  • I propose that we all be waiting in Tim's apartment when he gets home.
  • The boss insisted that Donna not be at the meeting.
  • Professor William suggested that Amanda should study harder for the final exam.
  • The company asked that employees not accept personal phone calls during business hours.
  • It is crucial that a car be waiting for the boss when the meeting is over.
  • We suggested that you be admitted to the association.
  • Susan recommended that Jake be hired immediately.
  • Christine demanded that I be allowed to take part in the negotiations.
  • The doctor recommended that she should see a specialist about the problem.

Types of Subjunctive

English Grammar has present subjunctive and past subjunctive forms, which can be related with the corresponding present indicative and past indicative forms the familiar present and past tense forms of verbs. The distinction between present and past is one of tense; the distinction between indicative and subjunctive is one of mood. Note that these terms are used here simply as names for forms that verbs take; the use of present and past forms is not limited to referring to present and past time. Sometimes the term subjunctive is used only to refer to what is called here the present subjunctive.

The present subjunctive is identical to the bare infinitive (and imperative) of the verb in all forms. This means that, for almost all verbs, the present subjunctive differs from the present indicative only in the third person singular form, which lacks the ending -s in the subjunctive.

For example:
With present subjunctive
It's important that he be cured.
With should
It's important that he should be cured.

  • Present indicative
I own, you own, he owns, we own, they own
  • Present subjunctive
(that) I own, (that) you own, (that) he own, (that) we own, (that) they own

With the verb be, however, the two moods are fully distinguished:
  • Present indicative
I am, you are, he is, we are, they are
  • Present subjunctive
(that) I be, (that) you be, (that) he be, (that) we be, (that) they be

Note: also the defective verb beware, which lacks indicative forms, but has a present subjunctive: (that) I beware…
The two moods are also fully distinguished when negated. Present subjunctive forms are negated by placing the word not before them.
  • Present indicative
I do not own, you do not own, he does not own…; I am not…
  • Present subjunctive
(that) I not own, (that) you not own, (that) he not own…; (that) I not be…
The past subjunctive exists as a distinct form only for the verb be, which has the form were throughout:
  • Past indicative
I was, you were, he was, we were, they were
  • Past subjunctive
(that) I were, (that) you were, (that) he were, (that) we were, (that) they were

In the past tense, there is no difference between the two moods: I was not; (that) I were not. Verbs other than be are defined as lacking a past subjunctive, or possibly as having a past subjunctive identical in form to the past indicative: (that) I owned; (that) I did not own.

Subjunctive Exercise

Choose the correct word to complete the sentence using the subjunctive.
  • It is important that we ________    home as soon as we arrive.
  • If I  ________   you I would call her tonight.
  • It is necessary that every student ________    a uniform.
  • If we cannot go on holiday this year, then so ________ it!
  • The landlord requested that John ________    out of the apartment.
  • They demanded that the president ______ something about the situation.
  • It is essential that she  ________  at the meeting.
  • I hope that he ________    his homework on time.
  • The boss asks that you ________    early for your first day of work.
  • Long _______ our noble queen!
  • The psychologists recommended that the criminal _______ in prison.
  • If he ________    feeling better we would go.
  • It is important that each patient ________ comfortable.
  • He suggests that everybody _________ an effort.
  • The doctors recommended that she ________    a holiday.
  • We want the windows  ________   washed before Friday.
  • We insist that more money ________ invested in education.