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!

Fremdschämen

The German language seems to reflect a cultural desire for accuracy and precision

The German language is a delightful one, reveling in the construction of compound words that succinctly convey a lot of information in just a few consonants. You might be familiar with the German term schadenfreude — a compound of schaden, “harm”, and freude, “joy” — a term represents a complex emotion, wherein finds joy in another’s misfortune (think of it in relation to the English word, “comeuppance”).

A similar but less familiar word is fremdschämen, — a compound of fremd, “external”, and schämen, “shame.” This word represents the feeling of shame one experiences over the actions of another, essentially vicarious embarrassment. You can think of this term as similar to the term “cringe-worthy” in our modern vernacular.