Grammar: Subjunctive Mood

In the English language, mood refers to the quality of a verb that conveys the writer’s (or speaker’s) attitude toward a subject. It can also be referred to as mode or modality. There are three major moods:

  • The indicative mood is used to make factual or declarative statements, such as “I leave at noon” or to pose questions, such as “Are you arriving soon?”
  • The imperative mood is used to express a request or issue a command, such as “Drive me to the store.”
  • The subjunctive mood is used to express a wish, hypothetical, doubt, or anything contrary to fact; such as “I wish I were a little bit taller.”

The past subjunctive mood is sometimes referred to as the “were-subjunctive” and is most easily recognizable as using the word “were,” usually in combination with “if” or “though.” Observe the difference between “was” (indicative) and “were” (subjunctive) in the following sentence:

[Her eye] was prominent, and showed a great deal of the white, and looked as steadily, as unwinkingly, at you as if it were a steel ball soldered in her head.

Charlotte Brontë, Shirley, 1849

And here’s a great video from Learn English with Papa Teach Me that teaches about the subjunctive mood in a fun and entertaining way:

Want more? Click here to read more about the major and minor moods in the English language!