The subjunctive in English is more interesting than actually essential knowledge. But in my early teaching days I found it hard to answer questions where a subjunctive explanation was the answer. For example, in the following sentence, why do we not add an ‘s’ to the verb ‘to save’;
God save the queen!
It is not an imperative; (God, save the queen!) So why not an ‘s’? Well because its the subjunctive, read on.
The subjunctive is difficult to distinguish, it is only obvious in the form of the present tense third person singular, as seen above, where the ‘s’ is eliminated.
The form is very easy to remember. We use the simple form of the verb (without the ‘to’). That’s it, what were you so worried about!
This is the bit that takes some remembering, so take some notes, or bookmark the blog so you can come back later!
- In some fixed phrases
Long live the king!
- Some specific verbs and adjectives are used in the subjunctive mood to indicate that something must be done. This is done with ‘that’ + subjunctive.
She insisted that he do the washing up.
It is imperative that nobody leave until they have finished the test.
Verbs that can be used in this way include; demand, insist, recommend, suggest.
Adjectives that can be used in this way include; essential, important, vital, imperative.
- To express something desired or imagined.
He requested that he be allowed to leave early for his daughter’s wedding.
It was unthinkable that the match be cancelled!
For unrealistic wishes, hopes and dreams, we can use the subjunctive in the past tense. For all the verbs except ‘to be’ the form is the same as the indicative mood, making it difficult to tell if it is subjunctive or not. But you will probably recognize it from the second conditional;
If I were rich, I would buy a boat.
Any more questions about the subjunctive? Let me know and I’ll update the post with the answer!