Subjunctive Mood


The subjunctive mood refers to sentences that express wishes, suppositions, statements of necessity, demands and other “contrary to fact” statements. “If he were taller” is an example of a contrary-to-fact subjunctive. He’s not taller. He’s as tall as he is. So this is subjunctive.

Compare that to “If he was being honest, you’ll get all your money back.” In this case it’s possible he was being honest. Time will tell. So it’s called “indicative,” which for our purposes just means “not subjunctive.”

The difference is reflected in the verb. In the past tense, the subjunctive applies only to the verb “be,” and it’s formed by replacing “was” with “were.” “If he were being honest” (which means he wasn’t) versus “If he was being honest” (which means it’s possible).

In the present tense, the subjunctive applies to all verbs, and you form it by replacing the conjugated verb with the “base form” of the verb.

Compare “Zach locks up the office at night” with “It’s crucial that Zach lock up the office at night.” “Locks” is the conjugated form. “Lock” is the base form. And by putting “it’s crucial” at the head of our sentence, we’re creating a statement of necessity that triggers the subjunctive mood.

Here's more on the subjunctive in my recent column.

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