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Mood

We usually speak of English verbs as having three main moods: indicative mood, imperative mood, and subjunctive mood.

Indicative is the usual mood of most verbs. It simply declares that an action is so. An indicative verb can be in any person, number, or tense.

  • will be building the new cabinets. (future progressive)
  • Keiko enjoys hiking and rockclimbing. (simple present)
  • The city council had considered the same proposal before. (past perfect)

Verbs in imperative mood give orders, instructions, or commands. Imperative verbs usually come at the beginning of a sentence. The implied subject of a verb in imperative mood is always you (either singular or plural).

  • Deliver this letter to Ms. Zhang.
  • Meet me at the ice skating rink.
  • Take this medicine with milk or food.

Verbs in subjunctive mood indicate desired, demanded, or hypothetical situations—or situations that are contrary to fact. The subjunctive form is the same as the base form of the verb, so it usually looks identical to simple present, except in third person singular.

  • The doctor recommends that my father get a knee replacement.
  • They asked that Maria go with them.
  • I suggest that you be silent during the testimony.

The only past subjunctive verb is were.

  • If I were you, I would reconsider that job offer.
  • She acted as if she were my mother.
  • If that were to happen, it would be a disaster.

Subjunctive mood usually follows expressions such as ask that, demand that, wish that, suggest that, recommend that, insist that, and so on. Subjunctives also follow expressions such as it is important that, it is desirable that, it is necessary that, and so on. The subjunctive verb were most commonly appears with “if” clauses.

Subjunctive mood is rare in contemporary English, though it used to be more common. One of the best known (and most misinterpreted) instances of subjunctive mood occurs in the song “America the Beautiful,” written around the year 1900.

  • America, America!
  • God shed his grace on thee,
  • And crown thy good with brotherhood…

The verb shed is not in simple past tense. Like crown, it is subjunctive, expressing a wished-for situation: “(May) God shed his grace on thee…”

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