The best thing about the subjunctive: It's usually optional

The subjunctive isn’t as scary as it sounds. Technically, it's optional.

Consider a sentence like “It’s crucial that he goes to college.”

One letter, the “s” at the end of “goes,” makes that sentence indicative as instead of subjunctive. Normally, starting off with something like “it’s crucial” sets up the subjunctive mood. And if we instead said, “It’s crucial that he go”  instead of “goes,” it would have been subjunctive. But because we used “goes,” it was not.

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood that occurs in statements contrary to fact: wishes, suppositions, demands, commands, and statements of necessity like “it’s crucial that.”

In those sentences, the subjunctive replaces the regular conjugated verb, like goes, with the base form of the verb, like “go.” Sometimes there’s no difference between the indicative and the subjunctive because the conjugated verb is identical to the base form of the verb. “I go to work” is indicative. “It’s crucial that I go to work” is subjunctive, but there’s no audible difference because both forms of “go” are the same.

In the past tense, the subjunctive applies only to the verb “be,” which becomes “were.” So in the past tense, “be” can become “was,” as in “I was going.” But if you put this as a statement contrary to fact, like a wish, you’d use the subjunctive “were”: I wish I were going.

One of the most interesting things about the subjunctive is that grammar guides don’t say you must or even should use it. So it’s not wrong, exactly, to say “It's crucial he goes” instead of the more proper subjunctive “It's crucial he go.”

It’s up to you.