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Negative, Continuous, and Passive Forms of Subjunctive Mood

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The subjunctive mood is one we often use without thinking. But often writers use it incorrectly in writing, so it is worthwhile to take a close look at this interesting “mood” we use all the time.  This structure is used not only for positive statements but also with negative, continuous, and passive constructs.

Negative Examples:

  • The boss insisted that John not be at the meeting.
  • The company asked that employees not accept personal phone calls during business hours.
  • I suggest that you not take the job without renegotiating the salary.

Passive Examples:

  • Matt recommended that Debbie be hired immediately.
  • Lee demanded that I be allowed to take part in the negotiations.
  • We suggested that you be admitted to the organization.

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Another Look at the Subjunctive Mood

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Let’s take a further look into the subjunctive mood, since there are often places in our writing where this “mood” is just what we need. The thing to remember about using the subjunctive structure is that it is used for imaginary or hypothetical conditions. Think for a moment about the difference between these sentences:

  • If I was home, I would have caught the intruder.
  • If I were home, I would have caught the intruder.
  • If I had been home, I would have caught the intruder.

In the first example, it’s assumed the statement could possibly have been true; it’s not an imaginary or hypothetical situation. If, in truth, I was home at the time, I would have caught that intruder.

In the second example, the subjunctive signals the reader that this situation is only hypothetical. It implies: I wish I had been home, for if I had been, I would have caught that bad guy.

The third sentence is again a realistic possibility. It isn’t a wish. I’m stating that yes, if I had been home, I would have caught the intruder. Continue Reading…

Are You in the Subjunctive Mood?

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I’m going to spend a few posts on what I think is an interesting and sometimes confusing component of our language: the subjunctive mood.

Contrary to what some say, the subjunctive is not a tense; it’s a mood. Tense refers to when an action takes place (past, present, future), while mood merely reflects how the speaker feels about the action. When deciding whether to use this “mood” or not, a writer needs to stop and think about the intent in the sentence she wants to write. I often see the subjunctive used incorrectly, or not used when it should be.

The subjunctive mood is rarely used in English, but it is widely used in Spanish and other languages. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred.

Let’s start with a simple comparison. English verbs have three moods:  indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

  • I will go to sleep now.  Do you want to go to sleep now? (Indicative mood: used to state a fact or opinion or ask a question)
  • Go to sleep now!  Please, go to sleep now. (Imperative mood: expresses a command, gives a direction, or makes a request)
  • If I were you, I would go to sleep now. (Subjunctive mood: expresses wishes, suggestions, and other attitudes)

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