One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
In grammar, mood is used to refer to a verb category or form which indicates whether the verb expresses a fact (the indicative mood), a command (the imperative mood), a question (the interrogative mood), a condition (the conditional mood), or a wish or possibility (the subjunctive mood).
The indicative mood
The form of a verb that is used to express statements of fact:
Whales are mammals, not fish.
We will visit Peru and Chile next year.
She liked Jack as soon as she met him.
They’re meeting us tomorrow morning.
The imperative mood
The imperative is used in commands and instructions. Imperatives in the affirmative are formed with the infinitive of the verb (without to), while negative imperatives are made with the infinitive together with do + not. The imperative doesn't typically have a subject. It’s used to order or ask someone to do something, to offer advice or encouragement, to give instructions, or to make suggestions:
Take the first turn on the left.
Just keep calm and relax.
Don’t forget your keys.
Have a great holiday.
The interrogative mood
Are you coming out tonight?
When is she leaving?
Where have they gone?
Did you make a profit?
The conditional mood
The conditional mood is made from the auxiliary verb would (also should with I and we) and the infinitive of the other verb without to. It’s used to make requests and to refer to situations which are uncertain or which depend on something else happening or being the case:
I would like some coffee please.
If he’d arrived earlier, we would have had time for dinner.
We would live in Spain if we had the money.
The subjunctive mood
The subjunctive mood is used to express a wish or possibility. This mood has a limited role in English compared to other languages such as French or Italian, but it's important to use it properly in formal writing.
The subjunctive form of a verb (apart from to be) is made from the 3rd person present singular, without the -s (or -es) ending. With these verbs, the same forms are used whether or not the context is the present or the past.
The subjunctive of to be is simply be in most cases, but were is used in certain constructions with if and to express a wish (see below).
The subjunctive is typically found in rather formal English constructions with that and with verbs such as suggest, demand, insist, ask, recommend, etc.:
It was suggested that he wait till the next morning.
They demanded that the prime minister explain who authorized the action.
The ordinary, indicative forms of the verbs in these examples would be waits and explains but it would be grammatically incorrect to use them in these cases:
✗ It was suggested that he waits till the next morning.
✗ They demanded that the prime minister explains who authorized the action.
Here are the other main uses of the subjunctive:
after if, as if, as though, and unless, in sentences that state a hypothetical condition, or with the verb to wish:
If I were taller, I would have been a model.
I wish I were more confident.
be and were are used at the beginning of sentences or clauses when the subject follows:
Were I to make a list of my favourite films, this would be in second place.
All books, be they fiction or non-fiction, should provide entertainment.
in certain fixed expressions, for example ‘be that as it may’, ‘come what may’, and ‘so be it’.
Back to Verbs.
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