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5.8: The Subjunctive Mood

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    The Subjunctive Mood

    In grammar, what is a mood?

           The English language has three main “moods” and two minor “moods”: declarative/indicative, interrogative and imperative; exclamatory and subjunctive.  So what does mood mean?  Mood means the kind of information the speaker or writer is trying to convey to the listener or reader is obvious from the “sound.”  For example, when I say, “I am a man,” I am conveying a fact.  When I say, “Are you tired today,” I am conveying a request for an answer.  When I say, “Sit down and shut up,” I am conveying an order.  Likewise, when I say, “What a deal!” or “Watch out!” I am conveying a surprise or a danger.  Finally, when I say, “I recommend that she take her child to the hospital right away,” I am conveying the idea that I strongly support the idea that “she” carry out an action, ie, “take her daughter to the hospital right away.”  Because I used the word “recommend” the listener or reader knows that the idea is my idea but that he or she must do the action if he or she agrees with my idea.  This is conveyed by not using the “s” form of the verb.  That is the subjunctive mood.

    An Explanation of the Subjunctive

           The subjunctive is used when a speaker or writer strongly wants someone else to do something.  In other words, the speaker or writer wants to manipulate another person to do what the speaker or the writer thinks is a good (or bad) idea or action.  The speaker or writer is trying to exert some kind of control over what someone else does.  When using the subjunctive, the speaker or writer is implying the meaning of should or must without saying should or must.  As a result, the subjunctive is not often used by native speakers because it does imply the idea of “I know better than you what you ‘should or must’ do.”  The subjunctive mood is very formal, educated English.  When used correctly, it is very lovely, educated English.

    Verbs That Use the Subjunctive

           The following verbs may use the subjunctive:

    prefer that        advise that        suggest that      propose that     recommend that      urge that      

    ask that            request that      require that       demand that     insist that               demand tat

    prefer that        ask that

    Adjectives That Use the Subjunctive (With adjectives, the verb to be is used before the adjective and the subject of the sentence is usually it.)

    a good/bad idea that   necessary that        advisable that           important that 

    imperative that           urgent that             essential that            vital that

           After using one of these verbs or adjective, a “that” clause follows.  In the “that” clause, we use a “bare” infinitive, which means an infinitive without the “to.”  Infinitives are, for example, to go, to see, to help, to inquire, to smile.  These same infinitives become the following as “bare infinitives”: go, see, help, inquire, smile.  Likewise, negative infinitives are not to go, not to see, not to help, not to inquire, not to smile.  Negative bare infinitives would be: not go, not see, not help, not inquire, not smile. 

    Examples of the Subjunctive with Verbs

    I insisted that my students skip lines when doing written work in this class.

    My wife and I have urged that my son participate in a toy piano composition competition.

    My wife has insisted that my sons brush their teeth before they go to bed ever since they have had teeth to brush.

    The law requires that each immigrant or refugee have a physical examination before entering America as a permanent resident.

    Teachers strongly advise that students not cheat on exams or homework assignments.

    The father demanded that his son not be impolite to his teachers ever again.

    Examples of the Subjunctive with Adjectives

    It is advisable that the student study more for exams.

    It is important that students not be late for classes.

    It was a very good idea that I be polite to adults when I was a boy.

    It will be essential that my sons teach their children to be polite to their teachers and to study hard in school.

    It is vital that injured people not wait to go to a hospital.

    It is imperative by law that children use seat belts or car seats.


    Please keep in mind that when using the subjunctive that after the main verb or adjective that a “that” clause be used.  Also, keep in mind that there are often other ways of giving the same information without using the subjunctive.

    For Example:

    I insisted that he leave immediately.
    I insisted on his going immediately.

    It is important that he study for the exam.
    It is important for him to study for the exam.

    It is vital that people eat food and drink water.
    It is vital for people to eat food and drink water.

    These sentences are equally good; however, the subjunctive sentences are much more formal.


    Exercise 32:  Use the subjunctive to respond to the following situations, please.  You only need to write one sentence.  There are many possible answers.

    The house is on fire.

    It is urgent that I call the fire department. 
    It is necessary that you dial 911. 
    I insisted that everyone get out of the house at once.

    1.  The boy is failing in his math class.


    2.  Your phone bill is due tomorrow.


    3.  Your car has a flat tire.


    4.  A member of your family is lying on the floor and having a difficult time breathing.


    5.  You needed more money to pay your bills.


    6.  The gas gauge in your car was on empty.


    7.  Your child wanted to quit school.


    8.  Your friend didn’t want to go to the hospital despite having a fever of 104 degrees.


    9.  Your friend found drugs in his son’s backpack.


    10.  A friend of yours didn’t know what to study in college.


    11.  A fat old friend with a bad heart wanted to eat more sweets and drink more soft drinks.


    12.  One of your friends bought a gun and wants to carry it around with him.


    13.  Your son hangs around doing nothing but playing video games and being lazy at home.


    Exercise 33:  Fill in the blanks, please.

    1.  “John, you forgot to finish your report that is due tomorrow.”

    “I suggest ---------------------------- right away.”


    2.  “What did the dentist tell you about your gums”?

    “He recommended --------------------------- take better care of them.”


    3.  “Mrs. Jones, your husband’s right front tire is low on air.”

    “I highly recommend -------------------------- as soon as possible.”


    4.  “Mom, Bobby plays the radio late at night, and I can’t get to sleep because it bothers me.”

    “Would you request -------------------------- so late at night”?


    5.  “What did Angela’s boss tell her about being late to work every day”?

    “He insisted ------------------------- on time for work from now on.”


    6.  “Mr. Bissonnette, should I review my notes before the examination tomorrow”?

    “It is always advisable ----------------------------- before every examination.”


    7.  “Barbara, what did the doctor tell you about being pregnant and smoking”?

    “He demanded --------------------------- immediately.”


    8.  “Dr. Smith, what is the most important way to be healthy”?

    “It is vital ------------------------------ to be a healthy person.”


    9.  “Don, what should I do to improve my verb grammar”?

    “It is essential ------------------------------ irregular verbs by heart.”


    Exercise 34:  Use the following verbs and adjectives in subjunctive sentences, please.

    1.  essential


    2.  urgent


    3.  propose


    4.  insist


    5.  a good idea


    6.  prefer


    7.  necessary


    8.  ask


    9.  important


    10.  urge


    11.  require


    12.  imperative


    13.  recommend


    14.  suggest


    15.  advise


    Exercise 35:  Fill in the blanks, please.

    1. What do you think that John should do?

    I recommend that ------------------------------.


    2. Where will should I buy a house?

    It is important that ------------------------------------------- the location.


    3.  What do I have to do to pass the exam?

    It is -------------------------------------- you study the irregular verbs.


    4.  I insist that my students -----------------------------------------.


    5.  What did the football coach tell his players?

    He insisted that ---------------------------------------.


    6.  Should my father have an operation?

    I recommend that ----------------------------------.


    7.  When would you suggest that the band practice?

    I have suggested that ---------------------------------------------------.


    8.  The policeman demanded that the driver ------------------- his immediately.


    9.  Would you suggest that Jerry take a bus or a plane to get to my appointment in Mexico City?

    I suggest that --------------------------------------- a plane.


    10.  It was important that she ------------ drinking alcohol.

    5.8: The Subjunctive Mood is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Don Bissonnette.

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