Subjunctive (SUBJ)

Use the subjunctive mood to express hypothesis, conjecture, wish, or impossibility. A subjunctive verb is usually followed by a conditional verb in the next clause. Note that the subjunctive verb form is often the same as the past tense verb form.

The subjunctive is gradually dying out in English, but here are some examples that you should recognize and use where appropriate:

  • Had [subj.] Shakespeare continued to write plays after 1613, he would have [cond. past.] written more romances and pastorals. [conjecture]
  • If I were [subj.] rich, I would buy [cond.] a copy of the First Folio. [impossibility or wish]
  • If I were [subj.] you, I’d [cond.] buy that taupe car. [impossibility]
  • Were [subj.] Antonio to speak in the conclusion of Twelfth Night, the play would likely resolve [cond.] the vexing problem of Sebastian’s relationship with his friend. [hypothesis]
  • I would [cond.] play this scene as if I were [subj.] talking to an old friend. [hypothesis. There is also a second implied subjunctive expressing hypothesis here: “If I were playing Jessica, I would play this scene as if I were talking to an old friend.”]
  • “Would it were day!” (Shakespeare, Henry V 3.7.2) [wish]
  • “If all the world and love were [subj.] young / And truth in every shepherd’s tongue, / These pretty pleasures might [cond.] me move / To live with thee and be thy love” (Ralegh 1-4). [implied impossibility]
  • Long live [subj.] the king! [wish]