Tuesday, November 9, 2010

That Subjunctive Mood

"If I were you, I'd write a novel."

"No, no, " he scolded. If I was you. I is singular. "

"Yes, but I am not you, " I said. "It is contrary to fact, so you use the subjunctive mood."

"The what?" he asked.

The almost-obsolete subjunctive mood (SM) lurks in our language and careful writers respect it. Please notice, we call it a mood; it is not a tense or voice, such as active or passive.

You don't need to memorize this, but English has three moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. The indicative mood makes statements and questions; the imperative mood commands or requests; the SM expresses wishes, desires, requirements, or conditions.

Simple? Clear? Most people aren't aware of their using the subjunctive mood. We've all heard people say (and it's correct):

· Whether it be

· Far be it from me

· As it were.

The following sentences use the subjunctive mood correctly.

· If she were rich, would she be kind?

· The defense attorney asks that he testify [not testifies] Monday.

· Unless the weather were to change, we'll have our annual picnic tomorrow.

· He yelled as if the house were on fire.

Here's a hint to help you with the subjunctive mood:
If the clause begins with as if or as though,
you usually need the subjunctive mood.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the grammar refresher. If only this were brought back to high school English classes, more people would be grammarians. :-)

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  2. This has become my number one pet peeve. My schoolteacher mother would be appalled at the frequency with which this is butchered in today's books.

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  3. Very good post on a detail often overlooked, thank you.

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