What is the Subjunctive Mood?

In most cases, the subjunctive form of a verb is usually the third-person form of the verb with the ‑s dropped, but the verb to be is a special case. The subjunctive is used after certain expressions that contain an order or a request, a hypothetical, or a wish.

It Is Recommended That…

Here’s an example of the subjunctive mood in action:

It is recommended that she prepare a short speech before the ceremony.

Does this look weird to you? Usually, you would use the verb form prepares with a third-person singular pronoun like she. But it’s very common to use the subjunctive mood with phrases like “It is recommended that…” or “We recommend that…” The subjunctive form of most verbs is simply the base form of the verb (e.g., prepare, walk, eat).

One reason this gets tricky is that it only becomes obvious you’re using the subjunctive mood when you’re using the third-person singular. The rest of the time, the verb form doesn’t change.

It is recommended that you prepare a short speech before the ceremony.

Other phrases that are commonly followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood include ask that, it is important that, and we insist that.

We asked that he listen carefully to the directions before starting the project.
It is important that she agree to these terms.
Maya insisted that the student seek the aid of a tutor.

Using the Verb to Be in the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood has one other use: to express wishes and hypothetical situations. Typically, this type of statement includes the word if.

If I were a cat, I would lie in the sun all day.

It’s only obvious that you’re using the subjunctive mood when you’re using the verb to be. The form of any other verb will remain unchanged.

When you’re describing a wish or an impossible situation, use were instead of was.

If I were you, I’d be careful.
If he were rich, he’d buy ten yachts.
Sally wishes she were taller.

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