English grammar

Module 3, Verbs: Types, Tenses, and Moods, Lesson 15:

Moods of Verbs

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English grammar

Definition: You learned earlier in this module that the tense of a verb indicates when an action occurred, but each verb also has a mood that tells us how the action is viewed or perceived by the speaker. It indicates whether something is a fact, opinion, command, suggestion, request, wish, hypothetical (imaginary) situation, or uncertainty. Moods are as important in writing as they are in our lives because they provide perspective. In English the three primary moods are indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

Indicative Mood

Indicative mood is fact mood, and it's the one we use most often. It states, asks, or denies a fact. However, it can also express an opinion because opinions are often stated as facts; when you have an opinion about something, you usually view it as a fact. Almost all the verbs you've studied so far have been in the indicative mood, so you're already familiar with it. The simple, progressive, and perfect tenses all express indicative mood.

Facts
Rain falls quite heavily during the month of April.
Lots of rain fell yesterday.
Rain is falling.
Rain is not falling.
Is rain falling?
Opinions
Lots of rain will fall tomorrow.
That is a beautiful painting.
These chocolate cookies taste delicious.
Jenna thinks that Norah will win the competition.
We believe he should go alone.
My little sister likes that we visit Florida every summer.
Note:
Interrogative mood, which is used to ask questions, is sometimes separated from the indicative.

Imperative Mood

Imperative mood is "bossy" mood—it's used to give commands or to advise or beg someone to do something. Commands can be affirmative (tell someone what to do) or negative (tell someone what not to do). Affirmative commands use the base form of the verb. Negative commands follow this formula: do + not + base. The subject of all imperative sentences is the unstated you.

(you) Open the door, please.
(you) Do not forget your homework.
or: Don't forget your homework.

Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is used to express suggestions, recommendations, advice, demands, wishes, and doubts. It is also used to talk about hypothetical (imaginary) situations or something that is contrary to fact.

Present Subjunctive (Mandative Subjunctive)

The present form of the subjunctive is most often used to talk about recommendations, suggestions, advice, requests, and demands, and it often (but not always) follows the word that. This is called the mandative subjunctive.

Jonathan's academic advisor recommended that he study abroad next year.
Subjunctive or Indicative?

Let's explore the present form of the subjunctive mood, which is simply the base form of any verb. This makes the subjunctive look almost identical to the present indicative—in fact, you'll only be able to tell the difference between the two moods in the third person singular form.

Person and Number Subjunctive Indicative
Third person singular (he, she, it)
I recommend that he arrive at school on time every day.
It's wonderful that he arrives at school on time every day.
First person singular (I)
They recommend that I arrive at school on time every day.
It's wonderful that I arrive at school on time every day.
First person plural (we)
They recommend that we arrive at school on time every day.
It's wonderful that we arrive at school on time every day.
Second person singular or plural (you)
I recommend that you arrive at school on time every day.
It's wonderful that you arrive at school on time every day.
Third person plural (they)
I recommend that they arrive at school on time every day.
It's wonderful that they arrive at school on time every day.
More on the Mandative Subjunctive

As you learned above, the mandative subjunctive is used for recommendations, demands, suggestions, requests, and advice. This type of sentence always has at least two verbs, but only the one after the word that is subjunctive; the first verb is always indicative.

We demanded that he stop setting off the fire alarm at school.
demanded = indicative
stop = subjunctive

It is imperative that she leave right away.
is = indicative
leave = subjunctive

Hint:
It is usually acceptable to omit the word that in both spoken and written English.

We demanded ____ he stop setting off the fire alarm at school.

Note:
In British English the modal should is used to express the mandative subjunctive.

They recommend that he should arrive on time every day.

Knowing When to Use the Mandative Subjunctive

Any sentence that starts with one of the verbs on the list below requires the subjunctive after that. Just remember that the verbs listed here will be in the indicative; only verbs following that will be in the subjunctive.

ask insist advise prefer propose recommend
pray urge demand request suggest

Here are a few examples:

I prefer that she bring cupcakes instead of muffins.
prefer = indicative
bring = subjunctive

They suggested that Leslie start training for the marathon way ahead of time.
suggested = indicative
start = subjunctive

The committee proposed that the new regulation take effect on January 1.
proposed = indicative
take = subjunctive

The DMV is insisting that Louis repeat the driving exam.
is insisting = indicative
repeat = subjunctive

Hint:
The first verb in a mandative subjunctive sentence can take any form of the indicative. This means that you can use any of the tenses you learned about earlier in this module. Notice the variety of tenses used in the examples above:
prefer = present indicative
suggested = past indicative
proposed = past indicative
is insisting = present progressive indicative

Some sentences that follow the formula It is + adjective + that require the subjunctive, but this rule only applies for certain adjectives:

best better essential important
vital crucial imperative necessary

Here are a few examples:

It is best that she stay here tonight instead of driving home in the snow storm.
It's important that Norah win the competition.
It's better that he do it on his own.
Hint:
In sentences following the above structure, it is common to use the word for plus the infinitive instead of the subjunctive mood. (The infinitive just adds the word to in front of the base, for example, to eat or to sleep.)
It is best for her to stay here tonight.
It's important for Norah to win the competition.
It's better for him to do it on his own.
Present Subjunctive of the Verb To Be

For the verb to be, you will use the base to form the subjunctive, just as you would with any other verb. However, unlike other verbs, to be will look completely different in the present indicative and present subjunctive. (This is because the base, be, is never used in the present indicative.)

Person and Number Subjunctive Indicative
First person singular (I)
They suggest that I be here on time.
It's great that I am here on time.
First person plural (we)
They suggest that we be here on time.
It's great that we are here on time.
Second person singular or plural (you)
They suggest that you be here on time.
It's great that you are here on time.
Third person singular (he, she, it)
They suggest that she be here on time.
It's great that she is here on time.
Third person plural (they)
They suggest that they be here on time.
It's great that they are here on time.
Mandative Subjunctive with the Verb To Be

Just like other verbs, to be can be used to express recommendations, demands, requests, suggestions, and advice.

The lawyer requested that the comment be stricken from the record.
requested = indicative
be = subjunctive

I demand that you be quiet during the movie.
demand = indicative
be = subjunctive

It is essential that they be on their guard tonight.
is = indicative
be = subjunctive

Using Were for Wishes, Desires, Hypotheticals, and Nonfactual Statements

When talking about wishes, desires, and hypothetical (imaginary) situations, you'll often use the subjunctive were. Up until now, you've been using the indicative were to talk about the past.

We were at the park all day yesterday.

However, subjunctive statements that use were do not refer to the past. Instead, they are statements you would make while daydreaming or imagining something. Were is the only form of to be that you can use for hypotheticals and nonfactual statements—it's used for the first, second, and third person, singular or plural. In the chart below, you'll notice that you can only tell the difference between the subjunctive were and the indicative were in the first and third person singular forms.

Hint:
Hypothetical subjunctive statements often start with if or I wish.
Person and Number Subjunctive (Hypothetical) Indicative (Past)
First person singular (I)
If I were at the baseball game right now, I'd be eating a hotdog.
I was at the baseball game yesterday.
Third person singular (he, she, it)
If he were at the baseball game right now, he'd be eating a hotdog.
He was at the baseball game yesterday.
First person plural (we)
If we were at the baseball game right now, we'd be eating hotdogs.
We were at the baseball game yesterday.
Second person singular or plural (you)
If you
were
at the baseball game right now, you'd be eating a hotdog.
You were at the baseball game yesterday.
Third person plural (they)
If they were at the baseball game right now, they'd be eating hotdogs.
They were at the baseball game yesterday.
If today were Saturday, I would sleep in.

This is an example of a hypothetical or nonfactual situation. It's not Saturday; the speaker is just imagining something she might do on a Saturday.

I wish today were Saturday so that I could sleep in.

Here, the speaker is using the subjunctive were to express a wish or desire. This statement can also be considered hypothetical or nonfactual because it's not actually Saturday.

I wouldn't go any closer to that tiger cage if I were you.

This is an example of a nonfactual statement. I am not you, but I'm imagining what I would—or wouldn't—do if I were in your place.

Hint:
In the examples above, would represents the conditional mood, which you'll learn about later in this lesson.

Note:
In British English the indicative is preferred for hypotheticals.
If today was Saturday, I would sleep in.
Sometimes the Subjunctive Just Doesn't Sound Right

The subjunctive mood often sounds funny because it isn't used very often in informal English and is being used less and less in formal English. We tend to use the conditional mood with the helping verbs could and would instead. As you saw above, it's also common to use for + infinitive instead of the subjunctive. If you study foreign languages, though, you will encounter the subjunctive much more frequently.

Indicative Example Subjunctive Example
is
Jason is our nominee for president.
be
I suggest Jason be our nominee for president.
was
I was rich, but now I am poor.
were
I wish I were rich.
Present third person verbs ending in s
He always buys his books well in advance.
Third person without the s
I suggest that he buy his books well in advance.

Conditional Mood

Conditional mood shows under what conditions something could happen. It uses modal verbs such as might, could, and would and is often set off by the words if or when.

I might be able to reach him if I call his cell phone.
We could see a different movie if you'd like.
What's the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery?
We will leave when Dad gets home.

Infinitive Mood

Infinitive mood uses infinitives to express action. An infinitive is simply the word to plus the base form of the verb.

to eat to sleep to run to think

Although they express action, infinitives don't act like verbs; they actually mimic other parts of speech, such as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Be careful when using infinitives—they often lead to sentence fragments.

To receive a compliment graciously, just say "thank you."
Wendall loves to read mystery novels.
Note:
Infinitives are considered verbals, not verbs. You'll learn more about them in Module 8, Lesson 6.

Practice What You've Learned

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Directions:
Identify each bold-faced verb as indicative, imperative, or subjunctive.
1.
I will go to the grocery store on the way home.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
2.
Wash the dishes before you play your video games.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
3.
If you were to bring your dog to school, you would have to take it back home immediately.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
4.
Four more players will require four more playing pieces.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
5.
Daria wishes that she were taller.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
6.
I demand that the student answer the question clearly.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
7.
Catch the dog before she gets out the door.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
8.
If I were the teacher, I would know the answer.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
9.
It is important that Wesley try to solve the problems himself.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
10.
When I was little, I did believe in ghosts.
indicative / imperative / subjunctive
Score: