College Prep Writing
The indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive are the three moods that influence the expression of verbs in English.
The indicative is used to express or imply a fact and this mood is used most frequently in statements and questions.
Wishes are fishes.
The imperative mood is for requests or commands, and the verb form is always the second person singular or plural. The usually-unexpressed subject of an imperative sentence is you. The following are examples.
Make a wish. Be careful what you wish for.
The subjunctive forms of verbs express hypothetical situations, or situations that do not reflect reality.
Subjunctive with wish
We use the subjunctive with wish because a wish is not a reality. Maybe you wish you were younger. A wish like that is an unreal situation because a person cannot be younger than his or her real age. In the following examples, the subjunctive verb is underlined in the noun clause following wish.
I wish I had more free time.
Although the past form of have is used in the example above, the speaker is referring to now; it is not that he or she wishes for more time in the past. To express the past with a wish, use the past perfect verb form.
I wish I had had more free time last weekend.
Subjunctive with hypothetical conditions
The subjunctive verb forms are also used with unreal or hypothetical conditions in if-clauses.
Present condition: If I had more free time I would spend it with my children.
Past condition: If I had had more free time last weekend, I would have spent it with my children.
Not all if-clauses introduce hypothetical situations. The following is an example of a condition that is not hypothetical.
If the weather is fine, I plan to walk around the lake tomorrow.
Subjunctive in noun clauses following certain verbs
When the verbs ask, advise, command, demand, insist, propose, recommend, request, require, stipulate, suggest, urge, and certain others introduce that-clauses (noun clauses), the main verb in the that-clause requires a subjunctive base verb form. The that is not optional in these noun clauses. The verb requiring the subjunctive and the subjunctive verb are underlined in the following example. Notice that the subjunctive base form does not include an -s suffix with third person singular verbs: she submit, not submits.
We suggested that she submit her résumé as soon as possible.
Subjunctive in noun clauses following certain adjectives
Subjunctive forms of verbs also occur in that-clauses that follow certain adjectives, including best, important, crucial, essential, imperative, necessary, urgent, and vital. The adjective requiring the subjunctive and the subjunctive verb are underlined in the following example.
It is essential that we be quiet here.
Subjunctive in noun clauses following certain nouns
Subjunctive verb forms occur in that-clauses that follow certain nouns, including advice, demand, directive, intention, on the condition, order, proposal, recommendation, request, suggestion, and wish. The noun requiring the subjunctive and the subjunctive verb are underlined in the following example.
His advice was that she save her money for college and forget about a new car.
Subjunctive Verb Forms
There are three subjunctive verb forms: the base form of the verb, the past tense, and the past perfect. These are examples with be, have, and go. Notice that am, is, are, has, and goes are not used in the subjunctive.
base form past tense past perfect
be were had been
have had had had
go went had gone
The subjunctive form of a modal is its past form. Could and would are subjunctive forms of can and will.
Present, Past, or What?
Verbs are not always what they might seem to be. For example, we know that the present tense may be used to express the future in English.
The flight leaves tomorrow morning.
Similarly, the past form of a verb does not necessarily indicate past time. An example is the past of the modal can. The could in "Could you help us" has nothing to do with the past. We use could to make requests more polite.
Subjunctive forms of verbs use past tense forms to express present time.
Anna wishes she had more time.
Had in the example above has nothing to do with the past time. It is the present subjunctive form of have.