What Exactly Is The Subjunctive Mood?

The subjunctive is one of the many grammatical features that has mostly disappeared from English, but which still comes up in just about every other language you'll encounter. Today, I'd like to start by talking about what the subjunctive mood is, and where and how it is used.

The subjunctive mood

The Subjunctive mood is used frequently in other languages. It expresses doubt, uncertainty, hope, fear, possibility, opinions, etc. Basically, it describes any verb whose action is not certain.

In the English sentence, "I hope that we will win", the clause we will win is not certain. This would be the subjunctive mood. We don't alter the words to suggest this uncertainty, but it is known because any object of the verb to hope [that] is uncertain. In other languages, however, including Italian, this uncertainty must be reflected by the verb.

While there are other situations where it will be required, we can generally expect the subjunctive to follow any time we would use the word that in English. In Italian, this means that the subjunctive mood will typically be applied to any clause introduced by the word che.

Examples

The following are some examples of sentences that use the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive verb is bold, and the word that causes it to be subjunctive is italic.

  • I wish it were warmer.
  • It is imperative that he be here on time.
  • If it weren't for him I wouldn't be here.
  • We do not demand that you use this product, but we recommend it.
  • The governor kindly requests that you attend his conference.

Again, we really don't change the verb to reflect the subjunctive mood in English, so in most of those examples they don't read as anything unusual. However phrases like that he be in the second example reflect the fact that it does still exist.

The subjunctive in Italian

Italian has four ways of forming the subjunctive mood, but like everything else, they're not that hard to learn. Remember, we're learning, not trying to learn!

Tomorrow we'll look at the first one, congiuntivo presente.


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  • Urgh.. No pienso que español sólo tenga un tipo de subjuntivo. Hay presente de subjuntivo, pretérito perfecto y imperfecto de subjuntivo y pluscuam perfecto de subjuntivo... Estos se consideran tipos de subjuntivo, ¿no?
    @@
    Lo siento si me pregunta te moleste. Es que estoy estudiando español y me parece extraño el dicho. :P
    ¡Que tengas un buen día!

  • You are correct. Thanks for catching my mistake! There are three forms of subjunctive in Spanish. I will correct the text.

  • Personally, I'd say I hope [that] we win (not "will win").

  • You might say it, but it would be incorrect. how can you hope for something that is presently happening (we win is a present tense verb)?

  • The rules of English have been completely redefined (for the worse!) over the course of my lifetime. When I was in grade school, I would have been marked wrong for a sentence like the one you suggest. But I have talked to several English teachers recently who have no concept of rules such as this.
    In the end, my opinion is that yes, as yoink pointed out, you are wrong, not because it's bad English (these days that's accepted) but rather because thinking like that will make you wrong in other languages.
    Proper English is important to me because by training myself to think more properly in English, I make it easier on myself when I speak Russian, or Spanish, or German, or whatever.

  • It's not a case of "presently happening". The phrase "that we win" is deceiving because "win" conjugates as "win" in all verb forms except for the 3rd person singular. A more clear example would be, "I hope that he be here". This more accurately demonstrates the need for "will" to be inserted.

  • I actually flip-flopped on this (which you know if you receive email notifications of follow-up comments), but in the end, I've settled on the description that I point out in my comment to yoink:
    The phrase "that we win" is deceiving because "win" conjugates as "win" in all verb forms except for the 3rd person singular. A more clear example would be, "I hope that he be here". This more accurately demonstrates the need for "will" to be inserted.
    In many other languages, the bare subjunctive would be used after "I hope", and I suspect (with no real basis) that it was probably so in Old English, but in present day English, the object of one's hope becomes accusative, and not subjunctive.

  • The only reason I would say it is incorrect is that it doesn't make logical sense to use the present tense for a hope (unless you are a time traveler or something). On the other hand, that sentence is used by native speakers on an arguably more regular basis, so in that sense it is "correct."

  • Once again, that is not the present tense. In this instance, it's the infinitive.

  • Thanks for correcting that it's not a subjunctive, it's actually a present (I hope that he wins). Still, I would consider "I hope that we will win" incorrect in my idiolect.
    I guess it's analagous to "If we win, we will be happy"/"If he wins, he will be happy". I would consider it incorrect to say "If we will win" or "If he will win". It's like trying to rigidly apply "logical" rules to language, rather than looking at how language naturally works.
    (And I think that the "rule" against splitting infinitives, as I just did, is silly.)
    (And I think that the "rule" against beginning a sentence with "And", as I just did, is also silly.)

  • "I hope that we win" is using the 1st person plural subjunctive of "to win", which is "win". "I hope that he will win" is a reconstruction in Modern English to remove the subjunctive, but not replace it with the simple present indicative. This can be noticed in sentences like "I hope that he be on time for once" or "My only wish is that he be on time" wherein we can see "he be" is the subjunctive. This can also be seen in "If he is late, he will be fired" when, in older texts, it would have said "If he be late, he will be fired and its past subjunctive form, the form we still use often, would be "If he were late, he would be fired." Sometimes we might say "Should he be late..." or "If he should be late" and even some people will use other modals such as "will, shall, may, and might" to replace the subjunctive here. It's modern English and it is perfectly acceptable.I pray that everyone HAVE gotten the gist of this. My only hope is that everyone HAVE gotten the gist of it. If someone still BE in need of succor, just ask and I shall try to answer.

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