Using Verb Moods

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There are three verb moods: indicative, imperative and subjunctive.

The indicative mood

The indicative mood expresses facts and opinions or asks questions. Most statements and questions are in the indicative mood.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are the indicative mood:

  • Joe picks up the boxes.
  • The German shepherd fetches the stick.
  • Bridget closes the window.

The imperative mood

The imperative mood is used to give orders or to make requests. The imperative is identical in form to the second-person indicative.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are all in the imperative mood:

  • Pick up those boxes.
  • Fetch!
  • Close the window.

The subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood is disappearing from English and is thus more difficult to use correctly than either the indicative or imperative mood. The subjunctive mood is used only in specific circumstances.

The present tense subjunctive is formed by dropping the s from the end of the third-person singular, except for the verb be. For example:

paints
present subjunctive: paint
walks
present subjunctive: walk
thinks
present subjunctive: think
is
present subjunctive: be

Except for the verb be, the past tense subjunctive is indistinguishable in form from the past tense indicative. For example:

painted
past subjunctive: painted
walked
past subjunctive: walked
thought
past subjunctive: thought
was
past subjunctive: were

The subjunctive is encountered in a few traditional sayings. For example, in the sentence God save the Queen, the verb save is in the subjunctive mood. Similarly, in the sentence Heaven forbid, the verb forbid is in the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is also used in the dependent clause of complex sentences to express unreal conditions. It follows verbs of wishing or requesting such as ask, command, demand, insist, order, recommend, require, suggest or wish.

The subjunctive mood is also used in a dependent clause when it is attached to an independent clause that uses an adjective that expresses urgency such as crucial, essential, important, imperative, necessary or urgent.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are in the subjunctive mood:

  • It is urgent that Harraway attend the meeting.
  • The Member of Parliament demanded that the Minister explain the effects of the bill on the environment.
  • The sergeant ordered that Calvin scrub the walls of the mess hall.
  • We suggest that Mrs. Beatty move her car out of the no-parking zone.
  • The committee recommended that the bill be passed immediately.
  • If Canada were a tropical country, we would be able to grow pineapples in our backyards.
  • If he were more generous, he would not have chased the canvassers away from his door.
  • I wish that this book were still in print.

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