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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