Talk:English subjunctive

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Awww...lots of inconsistencies in here[edit]

I want you to give this money to him so that he have enough for lunch. (the conjunction "so that" takes a subjunctive in formal English) Fully correct, "he have" is fine. BUT: what does this do in "suppositions and doubts"? That's a purpose too, isn't it? I want some action to be done one way for the purpose of benefitting him in some way. For what I can say, this is in the wrong section. -andy (talk) 14:50, 24 April 2010 (UTC)

Shouldn't that be I want you to give this money to him so that he has (or will have) enough for lunch? - Ian (talk) 12:48, 19 March 2012 (UTC)


There is a paragraph in the (inappropriate) "set phrases" section that differentiates between modal "may" and non-modal "may". It looks to me like a purely invented, original research, distinction. At least according to my understanding "may" is always a modal verb. Whatever its purpose (potential, conditional, jussive) its function might be performed by a particular mood in a different language. Anyway, "may" is an auxiliary verb, used instead of the subjunctive mood. It's not a verb in the subjunctive, which is what the whole of the rest of the article is about. I don't think any of the paragraph is relevant or particularly correct. -- (talk) 22:17, 18 August 2010 (UTC)


From the article text:

The verb "be" is so distinguishable because its forms in Modern English derive from three different stems in Old English: beon (be, being, been), wesan (was, is), and waeron (am, art, are, were).

How do you get "am" or "are" from waeron? As far as I'm aware, these stem from Old Norse verb forms, not from Old English. (em, eru in Old Norse.)Stian (talk) 13:46, 29 October 2010 (UTC)

OE had "ic eom"; don't know about "are". Nyttend (talk) 23:46, 3 January 2011 (UTC)
Old English has two verbs for "to be": beon and wesan have different connotations; wesan is more concrete and the closest to the basic "to be" of Modern English.
The Englisc present tense of each verb is:

ic eom

þu eart

he is

we sind(on)

ge sind(on)

hie sind(on)


ic beo

þu bist

he biþ

we beoþ

ge beoþ

hie beoþ

In the subjunctive you use "beon" in the present tense and "wesan" in the past tense form:
Singular: beo (present), wære (past)
Plural: beon (present), wæren (past)
(The form "wæron" means "were" in the indicative, in the plural of wesan: ic wæs, þu wæst, he wæs, we wæron and so forth.)
Hogweard (talk) 16:56, 4 January 2012 (UTC)

Future Subjunctive[edit]

Is the future subjunctive in the paradigm correct? Surely, without an initial particle (i.e., "if"), natural English is "were I to own", not "I were to own", the latter of which sounds like a clumsy future perfect... Can someone confirm? (talk) 00:48, 20 January 2011 (UTC)Nefertum

God Bless You[edit]

There are several sections where phrases like "God Bless You" are referred to, but it is never clearly explained why those phrases should be interpreted as subjunctive rather than as imperatives. I think the key to it all is to make sure that those sections illustrate the meaning of those phrases by "prepending" (sorry for the computing term) "May" to to them. E.g. "(May) God bless you." One of these sections is near the bottom of "[express a command, request, or suggestion]". There also are several [phrases] that could use the clarification that prepending "(may)" would bring, such as "(May) heaven forbid," "(May) peace be with you." Also perhaps "long live the king" could have "(may the king live long)" added to it. I'm no expert at English grammar. Be that as it may, I think that if there were some improvements made to this article, it might be of more use to the grammarless masses.Majorsheisskopf (talk) 00:11, 4 August 2011 (UTC)

Done. Hope my changes do the trick. Thanks for the clear and useful suggestion! Duoduoduo (talk) 15:14, 4 August 2011 (UTC)
+1 point for subjunctive use in be that as it may! But, the powers that be probably won't like my usage of humour here - yay, there's another use! — Preceding unsigned comment added by Interchangeable (talkcontribs) 21:22, 9 August 2011 (UTC)
The subjunctive vs. imperative in this case is more clear in German than in English. Where the forms "Gott sei dank" (God be thanked.) is clearly not "Gott, werde gedankt!" (Got, be thanked) Even though "Gott sei mit euch." (God be with you.) is homophonous with "Gott, sei mit euch!" (God, be with us.) it is still recognized widely as a subjunctive form. It's also more equally clear because German retains more recognizable subjunctives (due to less convergence of verb forms.) "Dein Reich komme." (Your kingdom come.) rather than "Dein Reich, komm!" (Your kingdom, come.)
I realize all of this comes from analogy to a related language. --Puellanivis (talk) 23:14, 10 August 2011 (UTC)

Present Perfect[edit]

Is it correct to use the subjunctive in the present perfect tense (for example, We insist that a new manager have been trained for some time.)? Interchangeable|talk to me|what I've changed 23:18, 8 August 2011 (UTC)

Sounds a little strange to me, but I think it's right. Duoduoduo (talk) 02:17, 9 August 2011 (UTC)
It sounded strange to me, too; that's why I asked here. The curious thing is that (to me) the negative sounds perfectly fine in the past perfect tense. For example, We also insist that a new manager not have been lazy. I know for sure that that is correct, so why should it sound strange in the positive? Interchangeable|talk to me|what I've changed 21:20, 9 August 2011 (UTC)
It sounds weird to me, but I lean towards incorrect. The corrected version "We insist that a new manager be trained for some time." being ambiguous for "we insist that a new manager be trained for some time prior to hiring." and "we insist that a new manager be trained for some time after hiring." It's part of ambiguity of subjunctive forms of the "be" form in modern English. (Note in the table, it indicates that the phrase: "I request that I be set free." is ambiguous as to tense.) --Puellanivis (talk) 23:20, 10 August 2011 (UTC)
I think that "We insist that a new manager be trained for some time" can only mean after hiring. The more I think about it, the more I think We insist that a new manager have been trained for some time sounds fine.
Also, I disagree about "I request that I be set free." I think it's clearly non-past, which in English covers both the present and the future but is generally referred to as "the present". Duoduoduo (talk) 23:45, 10 August 2011 (UTC)


I think there is often confusion about the scope of moods (and tenses, for that matter), in that people extend them too far throughout a sentence. For example, I often find something like this:

  • If that were true, I would tell you why I loved you.

when I think that the following is actually intended:

  • If that were true, I would tell you why I love you.

I think it's likely that the temporal confusion of subjunctive "were" leads a person to render the rest of the sentence to match a past tense, because mixing tenses is something that people seem to have trouble doing; for example, I often find something like this:

  • I told you that I was younger than you!

when I think that the following is actually intended:

  • I told you that I am younger than you!

Similarly, in reference to the first example, it is possible that a person might be trying to interpret the entire sentence within a uniform counterfactual mood, such that "loved" is properly rendered in the present tense (using the subjunctive mood). However, using such an expansion of scope diminishes the richness of expression. For example, to me, the first example's first sentence:

  • If that were true, I would tell you why I loved you.

actually means:

  • If that were true, I would say to you: "I loved you in the past, and this is why..."


What are your comments, and could we somehow address these concerns in the article? Mfwitten (talk) 18:32, 3 November 2011 (UTC)

Interesting. Regarding the first sentence,
  • If that were true, I would tell you why I loved you.
I have a vague feeling that people sometimes say that, but we'd need a source. I agree that if someone says it with a present tense meaning, it's because they are trying to extend the counterfactual sense to the entire sentence; but it would be non-standard since the subordinate "why..." clause does not conventionally trigger the subjunctive.
As for
  • I told you that I was younger than you!
I don't think this is a good example. What "I" said at that past time was that I was younger than you at the time I said it. I didn't tell you that I would be younger than you at a later time (now), even though that can be inferred via logic. Herein lies a difference between the tense treatment of direct discourse vs. that of indirect discourse: In direct discourse, with quotation marks, the entire quote is preserved including the (present) tense that was used; but in paraphrasal, the reference point relative to which a tense is chosen is that of the current speaker. Duoduoduo (talk) 19:10, 3 November 2011 (UTC)

Insisted that he be...[edit]

A recent edit says:

(He insisted that he be found not guilty of the charges; I insist that he be there). This use of the subjunctive is standard in formal North American English: in formal British English some publications retain it, while others replace it with the indicative.

I'm skeptical of this--would a British publication really say "I insist that he is there" when he's not there but I want him to be? Duoduoduo (talk) 03:38, 5 February 2012 (UTC)

Yes: British publications are lax on this - North American Enlish usage is far more sound on the subjunctive.
(As an example, when Britney Spears did some daft publicity thing with the strapline "If I were President", at least one British newspaper quoted her but changed it to "If I was President": under a screen shot which corrected quoted the words. If Britney Spears has better grammar than a national newspaper, is there any hope for British journalism?) Hogweard (talk) 16:23, 12 February 2012 (UTC)
"I insist that he is there" means that someone else is unconvinced that he is here, but you are holding to your opinion that he is present. Interchangeable 03:09, 6 June 2012 (UTC)
Yes; that is a very good way to explain it. Hogweard (talk) 12:19, 8 June 2012 (UTC)
"I insist that he is there" in modern colloquial English, as spoken in England at any rate, actually has two possible distinct meanings depending on context. Firstly, the one given above, but secondly, an insistence that someone should be present at a time and place in the future. To an English ear, at least, "I insist that you be there" and "I insist that you're there" express the same thing, and both sound correct. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:02, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
The (so-called present) subjunctive may now be becoming more widely used in (formal) British English, but the 2015 edition of Fowler's still says "For more conservative British writers this use still has a distinctly transatlantic feel." Though the form with should is preferred and context is important, I don't think we can say that use of the indicative in mandative clauses (covert mandative) is restricted to informal or colloquial style in British English. --Boson (talk) 23:36, 11 December 2015 (UTC)


Like what does this mean "counterfactual dependent clauses". Pretty much what I would like to see in this article is when you use the tense and how you form it in basic terms. Dan653 (talk) 03:25, 7 March 2012 (UTC)

I dispute the usage "It is high time he buys a new car"[edit]

Per discussion on StackExchange English Language and Usage, I do not think the present tense is valid in this construction. I think It's time [noun] [verb] recasts as By this time, [noun] should have [verb], and that [verb] should always be past tense. — Preceding unsigned comment added by FumbleFingass (talkcontribs) 17:47, 22 March 2012 (UTC)

I would say "It's high time he bought a new car", i.e. a past tense (i.e. a past subjunctive I think?). I'm southern British English, born in the 1960s. UBJ 43X (talk) 18:54, 2 January 2017 (UTC)

Past subjunctive[edit]

We urgently need some clarification on what is to be called the past subjunctive.

For instance the table lists words like "owned" as past subjunctive. This does not conform to the usage of major grammars (e.g. Huddleston, Quirk, etc.) that are given as sources. Such grammars refer to words like "owned" when used, for instance, in modally remote (counterfactual or hypothetical) conditions as the preterite or (backshifted) past tense used to express modal remoteness. The idiosyncratic use of the word "subjunctive" in this article (to include these cases of modal remoteness expressed by a non-subjunctive forms) may result from a misreading of such grammars, which restrict the use of the word "subjunctive" to the forms "were", "be" and the plain 's'-less form of other verbs (e.g. "I demand he go.") or to the adoption of the usage of other authors (who may use the word "subjunctive" to refer to modality as well as mood). In any case, this needs to be clarified and the reader informed appropriately. We definitely need individual citations with footnotes, and preferably quotations. The article does attempt to differentiate between tense and mood, but it also needs to differentiate correctly (1) between tense and time and (2) between mood and modality. --Boson (talk) 17:47, 7 August 2012 (UTC) --Boson (talk) 17:47, 7 August 2012 (UTC)

I agree... the English subjunctive is dying so much that it's hard to even accurately describe how it works. I've basically taken German as a kind of rough model of how the subjunctive was used in English. Since English has very little conjugation unlike German, it becomes impossible to distinguish "were" (3rd person indicative past) from "were" (1st person subjunctive present). Whereas in German, it's clear "waren" (3rd person indicative preterit) and "wären" (3rd person subjunctive II present). So, yeah, English ends up with the most irregular verb "be" producing the most distinct forms: "be" (subjunctive I analog) and "were" (subjunctive II analog), and nearly every other verb ends up simply being the same as the simple past. (If I were a bird... If I had a sandwich... If I saw a mockingbird...) As a result, English tends to use a compound subjunctive with "would" (the proper subjunctive of "will") (If I would be a bird... If I would have a sandwich... If I would see a mockingbird...) leading to the past form of "would have had", (If I would have been a bird... If I would have had a sandwich... If I would have seen a mockingbird...) (I suppose I should also point out that there are some old subjunctives stuck in time, and repurposed in English: could, would, should.)
Anyways, I don't know how much of this qualifies as OR, as I haven't collected reliable sources on the matter, but yes, English tends to throw the difference between tense and mood out the window. Most often anymore you hear "If I was a bird..." --Puellanivis (talk) 08:45, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
I don't know where this idea of using the word "subjunctive" to refer to the past tense used in unlikely conditions etc. crept in. It doesn't seem to be used in this way in the sources listed, and modern grammars normally only refer to the forms "be" and were" and the "null-inflected" form of other verbs as subjunctive. The form "If I owned it", "If I was" etc. are referred to as the preterite (or past). It is merely the preterite used to express remote modality (e.g. unlikeliness), rather than the preterite stereotypically used to express past time. It is very common for verb forms that are named after a time (present, past, etc.) to be used in ways that have little to do with the time that one might naively expect, but we don't try to use a different term (like "subjunctive"). Consider
  • "I take a nap every day." (verb form: simple present; time = past and future but not present time)
  • "He said he was flying to Paris tomorrow, and that the plane didn't arrive till 10 o'clock.": tense = past (indicative, continuous); time=future.
We need to distinguish between (remote) modality as a semantic category and different ways to express this in English, such as grammatical mood. German often uses the subjunctive to express remote modality. English very rarely uses the subjunctive form of the verb for this purpose; it may use a modal auxiliary but often uses the preterite. German similarly uses the subjunctive in indirect speech where English uses the preterite (often referred to as backshifting). If we include phrases like "if I owned" as an example of the subjunctive, it would be ridiculous to talk of the subjunctive being on the wane or moribund.
Sidney Greenbaum, in The Oxford English Grammar, writes:
"The past subjunctive is the hypothetical subjunctive. It is restricted to were, and is distinct from the past indicative of the main verb be only in the first and third person singular . . . The past indicative was is more usual than subjunctive were in contexts that are not formal" [in contexts like "If I was . . ."]. .
This view is shared by other inguists/grammarians, including Fowler, Gowers, Burchfield, Huddleston, Pullum, Greenbaum, Quirk et al. , and - at least implicitly - by the Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, and even Garner. Unfortunately some, like Garner, express themselves in a way likely to confuse the issue. --Boson (talk) 10:10, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
It seems somehow more logical to me to say that the indicative and subjunctive are not distinguished in form, rather than that the subjunctive does not exist. Once we note that, for example, the subjunctive is frequently used after recommend that, as is evidenced by such sentences as ...recommend that he go..., then it seems natural to assume that a subjunctive is also being used in ...recommend that they go..., except that in this case its form is not distinct from the corresponding indicative. Similarly with if I were and if I owned. It's like when we say I put it on yesterday; it is not normally claimed that put has no past tense, just that the past tense form is identical in this case to the present. That said, I agree the article needs a lot of improvement. Victor Yus (talk) 10:45, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
I would agree with the first part ("recommend that he go"; "recommend that they go"), since there is a different form of the verb in the sense that the "conjugation table" (I go, you go, he go, etc.) is different. However, I disagree that this is true or helpful when dealing with the use of the preterite to indicate modal remoteness (I do not think this situation is analogous to the preterite form of put). Most authorities seem to agree with me. It is fairly clear to me that the preterite (the preterite "conjugation table" in its entirety) is normally used for modal remoteness, including the verb be in non-formal or colloquial English. I would prefer to say that
  • in non-formal English the preterite is used for all verbs, including be and own, while in very formal English the subjunctive form were is used with the verb be,
rather than that
  • the subjunctive is always used but the verb be has two subjunctive forms, was and were
or that
  • the subjunctive is always used but, solely for the verb be, the indicative form was is used colloquially, alongside the subjunctive, which is used everywhere else and for all other verbs.
The main point, however, is not what I think is useful but the mainstream view of modern linguists.
This is what Huddleston (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) says about remote conditionals:
  • "The verb of the protasis must be the irrealis form were or a preterite with the modal remoteness meaning. . . . With 1st/3rd person singular subjects preterite was is somewhat informal in comparison with irrealis were."
We should perhaps note that the term "past subjunctive" is or was sometimes used in the semantic sense of modal remoteness by some authors - if we can find a souurce.--Boson (talk) 15:24, 9 August 2012 (UTC)--Boson (talk) 15:24, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
I think you're confused on some concepts here... here, let me show your example sentences again:
  • "I take a nap every day." (sentence form: present habitual, verb form: simple present)
(As a side example:"I take my lunch every day at noon." (sentence form: present habitual, verb form: simple present. You would describe this as "past and future, but not present", but if it is just after noon, then it is present as well. Nothing actually changes linguistically in form or concept.)
  • "He said he was flying to Paris tomorrow, and that the plane didn't arrive till 10 o'clock." (sentence form: indirect speech, verb forms: past progressive, and negative preterit)
Your whole concept of "remote modality" is unknown to me. Do you mean the dubitative mood? Because English does not have a distinct dubitative mood. Do you mean indirect speech? Because English does not have a distinct form for indirect speech, it uses a subjunctive form. (The later of your examples being an example of informal use of of the preterit as subjunctive, which typifies modern English.)
I mean, if you want to draw attention to the separate notions between indirect speech/dubitative mood vs counterfactual mood... then sure, that distinction exists, but it is simply not represented in any Germanic language.
To answer your implicit question: the use the term "subjunctive" or "conjunctive" for indirect speech/dubitative mood "crept in" because the Brothers Grimm described them as "Konjunktiv I" and "Konjunktiv II" respectfully.
As well "modality" has a different meaning in linguistics from what you are using.
In general, I'm finding it difficult to understand what exactly you are complaining about.
"it would be ridiculous to talk of the subjunctive being on the wane or moribund." I'm going to agree that there is some conflation going on here. No, the subjunctive mood is not gone from English. What is on the wane or moribund is the subjunctive form. Perhaps clarifying this appropriately rather than talking about the conflatible "subjunctive" would be advisable. --Puellanivis (talk) 19:28, 9 August 2012 (UTC)
Terminology, of course, differs among authors, but my point is that it is useful (and usual) to distinguish between semantic concepts (such as "modality") and grammatical features (such as what is usually known as "mood"), used to express those concepts. As you say, English does not have a "dubitative mood", in other words the semantic category of remote modality (which I will come back to later) is not assciated with a grammatical category "dubitative mood", but is represented using different grammatical features (such as the preterite). This distinction has been made for a long time but the tedency seems to be increasing strictness in making such distinctions. I am saying that we should follow modern mainstream authorities in reserving the term "subjunctive" for a particular grammatical feature. Because it muddies the issue, I have deliberately not gone into the related but separate issue of analytic vs inflectional representation of mood.
No, I am not confused on the concepts. My excursion into tenses, which may indeed have been confusing, was meant to illustrate that similar distinctions are made between time (semantic) and tense (grammatical), the grammatical terms "present" and "preterite, for instance, having only a tenuous relationship with the semantic concept of time. For instance, my example "I take a nap every day." was meant to illustrate that at least with certain types of verb the (grammatical) simple present very often (even usually) does not represent an action that is taking place in the present time. The present progressive (or whatever you want to call it), on the other hand often does. An English native speaker would not normally use the simple present "I write a letter" to express a current action, i.e. present time (though he might coincidentally be writing a letter at the time); the present continuous "I am writing a letter", on the other hand, would normally be used for this purpose. It is unfortunate that the same term, "present", is often used to express both the semantic and the grammatical categories. Similarly, some people loosely (and confusingly) use "mood" to cover the grammatical feature (mood) and the semantic category (modality). By the way, this distinction is made in the article on modality that you cited.
Similarly, you quote my other example, but remove the reference to time, which is the point I was making:
  • "He said he was flying to Paris tomorrow, and that the plane didn't arrive till 10 o'clock." (sentence form: indirect speech, verb forms: past progressive, and negative preterit)
In this example the past tense (was flying and didn't arrive) refers to actions that will take place in the future. The point is that the past tense (past progressive or preterite) is used for various purposes and the connection with the time of the action is tenuous. The preterite can also be used to express remote modality (e.g. unlikeliness).
This is what Huddleston writes inThe Cambridge Grammar of the English Language:

"The distinction between mood and modality is like that between tense and time, or aspect and aspectuality: mood is a category of grammar, modality a category of meaning. Mood is the grammaticalisation of modality within the verbal system. The term 'mood' is most usually applied to inflectional systems of the verb, as in the contrast between indicative, subjunctive, and imperative in such languages as Latin, French and German. As far as English is concerned, historical change has more or less eliminated mood from the inflectional system, with irrealis mood being confined to the 1st/3rd person singular were, which is moreover usually replaceable by the ordinary preterite form was.

You wrote: 'As well "modality" has a different meaning in linguistics from what you are using.'
No, I am using it in that meaning (though that article also needs some attention).
If you look at the section Linguistic modality#Ways of expressing modality, you will see that it includes the use of the subjunctive as one way of expressing modality (e.g. in French):

"In many languages modal categories are expressed by verbal morphology. If these verbal markers of modality are obligatory in a language, they are called mood markers. Well-known examples of moods in some European languages are referred to as subjunctive, conditional and indicative as illustrated below with examples from French, all three with the verb avoir ‘to have’. As in most Standard European languages, the shape of the verb conveys not only information about modality, but also about other categories such as person and number of the subject.

As regards the Brothers Grimm, I have no problem with them using the terms "Konjunktiv I" and "Konjunktiv II" in reference to German. My implicit question is how the term "subjunctive" came to be used to refer to the semantic category of remote modality, however represented grammatically, in modern English, which has largely lost the distinct grammatical category that is used to represent it in German. In German, for instance, the subjunctive (or Konjunktiv) is used to indicate indirect speech; in English it is not.
What I am complaining about is the conflation of the semantic and grammatical concepts and the use of the term "subjunctive" for both. I think we need to point out that the use of the term "subjunctive" for the semantic concept (including its expression in the use of the preterite) is not mainstream (with regard to modern English). In other words, we should not imply that "If I owned . . ." is an example of the past subjunctive, as the term is used by mainstream modern English grammarians. The conflation is understandable when dealing with languages like German but it should be avoided in English.
--Boson (talk) 11:04, 11 August 2012 (UTC)
I agree with most of that, but I still don't see any essential contradiction between regarding mood as a grammatical category, and asserting "(If I) owned..." to be a subjunctive (happening to have the same form as the indicative), on the ground that the one verb that does mark mood in the past tense has (or can have) the subjunctive in that situation. I've tried to be less definitive on this point in my rewrite of the article, and of course if all authors turn out take the opposite position then it's not our job to contradict them, but the position at least seems supportable. Victor Yus (talk) 12:24, 11 August 2012 (UTC)
Since it is a matter of terminology or classification, I agree that it is supportable,
  1. based on arguments usefulness and consistency ,
  2. provided we define our terms (and avoid making conflicting statements based on differing definitions),
  3. provided that we follow mainstream authorities (in Wikipedia articles).
I think the article has been considerably improved in this respect. I am still not too happy about the implication that, grammatically, be has two past subjunctive forms (was and were) in the 1st/3rd person singular. I would prefer to interpret it as the preterite (or "past" indicative) being used for all verbs in modally remote conditions, with the vestigial "past subjunctive" ,or irrealis, "were" being retained in a few set expressions and in formal English.
I understand the possibility (based on history or other Germanic languages) of regarding the form "owned" as a subjunctive when used in the protasis of a conditional construction but I still do not, personally, think it is useful or consistent. Looking at the French example at Linguistic modality "Si c'était vrai on l'aurait vu à CNN.", would anyone think it useful to regard "était" as subjunctive (alongside forms like soit and fût)?
We probably need to indicate that some authors (we should be able to find sources) use "subjunctive" in the wider sense, which I think would justify having a (separate) section dealing the use of forms like "owned" in remote conditions, but I think we also need to give more prominence to the view that the protasis of a remote conditional construction normally uses the preterite or (so-called) past indicative.
--Boson (talk) 07:56, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
I made a slight change to try to clarify that was is not an alternative subjunctive form, but an indicative alternative to the subjunctive form. (I think your French example is parallel to the "was/were" case but not to the "owned" case - in French there are two distinct forms était and fût, so we can clearly say that any instance of était, like was, is not a subjunctive; but with owned there are no distinct forms, so it is hard, or perhaps unimportant, to identify the mood of any given instance of owned.) Do you have any specific suggestions as to how the article as it now stands could be improved/corrected? I think the opening sentences could probably be rewritten. Victor Yus (talk) 08:29, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
I don't think it is easy to be consistent while maintaining what I would regard as a fiction of a subjunctive form that is identical to the preterite. It means generalizing from a single form were and means that we are now treating "if I was" as indicative but "if I owned" as subjunctive. I would prefer to say that French and English both use past tenses in the protasis of a conditional construction. The French example shows that it is not necessary to posit a subjunctive to explain the use of what appears to be the past indicative.
As regards the body of the current article, I think the only sentence I have a real problem with is:

"The past subjunctive, for all ordinary lexical verbs, is identical to the past indicative: (if) I owned... (such verbs may also be described as lacking a past subjunctive)."

I think this puts the minority view first, with only a passing nod to the view expressed in major grammars. I would prefer something like:

"The verb be has a distinctive subjunctive form in the first and third person singular, namely were. This is the only distinct past subjunctive form in English, which is also known as the irrealis. The use of the past tense form in the protasis (if-clause) to express unlikeliness or counterfactuality is also sometimes referred to as a "subjunctive"; for example "if I were" and if I owned" are both sometimes referred to as using a subjunctive form or expressing a subjunctive mood. Some authorities treat the irrealis as a separate form and prefer to use the term "subjunctive" only for what is here called the "present subjunctive". "

The so-called "present subjunctive" (e.g. be) is in fact tenseless, and the so-called "past subjunctive" is not its past form. Consider: "We insisted that they be punished", where there is no backshifting for indirect speech as there would be with a tensed form of the verb.
As regards the introduction, I don't think "conjunctive" belongs there. Does anyone still call it that (when referring to English)? Even if some do, I don't think it deserves to be in the intro. I agree that the intro is probably best rewritten (as a brief summary of the article). I don't think it should have the bulleted list.
--Boson (talk) 12:54, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
Well, I've done my best, making a few changes to incorporate these suggestions, hopefully without getting too bogged down in theory. If you can make further improvements, feel free. Victor Yus (talk) 12:20, 14 August 2012 (UTC)

I disagree with some of what has been written here about the correct use of the past subjunctive. H. P. Lovecraft in the first sentence of his short story "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" demonstrates the correct use: "I have often wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and the obscure world to which they belong." Thus the past subjunctive in the third person singular drops the -ed, just as it drops the -s in the present subjunctive. — Preceding unsigned comment added by DanQuigley (talkcontribs) 16:32, 24 April 2017 (UTC)


"Notice that the subjunctive is not generally used after verbs such as hope and expect."

This looks incorrect to be, because the verb ′expect' has two meanings: One is to express a belief about the future, and another is synonymous with "require". So we can say "The law requires that you wear your seatbelt." and we can say "I expect that you wear your seatbelt." Here, both sentences require subjunctive "that"-clauses in American English, I believe. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:29, 18 July 2013 (UTC)

Agree. If at all, expect should be discussed with insist. The subjunctive can be used when the verb expresses an obligation ("deontic modality"), but not when it expresses the degree to which the truth of something is affirmed ("epistemic modality"). --Boson (talk) 08:53, 18 July 2013 (UTC)

The Present Subjunctive with Statement/Directive Verbs: British vs. American Use[edit]

I added the 6 published examples of the way BrE and AmE sometimes differ with regard to the indicative vs. the mandative subjunctive. As an American who was living in Italy and teaching English, I was sure that when I came across Example (talk) 22:27, 15 December 2014 (UTC) that it was a mistake -- until I spoke to British colleagues and did some research. There have been a number of corpus studies that document how BrE, influenced by AmE, has in recent decades been moving away from the indicative (and modal) to the subjunctive. (talk) 22:21, 12 December 2014 (UTC)

I see duplicates in the word lists in Notes 2 and 3. DjinTonic (talk) 22:17, 12 December 2014 (UTC)

Death of the Subjunctive[edit]

Given how many English-speaking people are ignorant of the subjunctive, perhaps the article ought to include a section entitled "Death of the Subjunctive". John Link (talk) 18:52, 8 February 2015 (UTC)

Indeed. I came to to suggest the very thing. The English subjunctive is now (apparently) outlawed in every market in Anglophonia, with such hillbilly talk as "It is important that you are quiet" and "The contract stipulates the parts are made in Scotland" now media standard internationally. The Death section needs to happen; it's the most important subjunctive-related issue since the English subjunctive was invented. Laodah 20:34, 14 February 2015 (UTC) "You can have the English subjunctive when you order that it be pried from my cold, dead fingers." — Preceding unsigned comment added by Laodah (talkcontribs)

"Are" and "Were"[edit]

"Were" is used for the past subjunctive. "Be", not "are", however is used for the present subjunctive. We don't say "I are", "he are", "she are", or "it are". 2602:306:B8E0:82C0:C57C:A2C7:42EA:556A (talk) 14:44, 29 May 2015 (UTC)

" I suggest that he be removed" is given as an example in the inroduction as being in the subjunctive mood. This is false. "be" is being used an auxillary verb to express the passive voice. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:47, 5 July 2015 (UTC)

It is that too. But is still a subjunctive at the same time. W. P. Uzer (talk) 08:25, 5 July 2015 (UTC)
Be removed, as opposed to is removed is subjunctive. --Boson (talk) 11:52, 5 July 2015 (UTC)

Use of speculative tense–mood combinations[edit]

A Glossary of English Grammar says of the subjunctive:

"It survives only in three rather formal contexts:
(a) the mandative subjunctive, in that clauses such as This committee will urge that the president resign his office, ...
(b) the formulaic subjunctive, as in God bless you! ...
(c) the were-subjunctive ..."

The Oxford English Grammar defines two subjunctive forms:

  1. the present subjunctive, which is identical to the uninflected base form (e.g. have, be)
  2. the past subjunctive, which is restricted to the form were; it exists only for the verb be

The forms had, did, owned, was etc., used in hypothetical conditions are not referred to as subjunctives. Though they fulfil a similar purpose to subjunctives in other languages, they are referred to as "secondary uses of the simple tenses", in this case the hypothetical past". A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language similarly describes two subjunctive forms

  1. the present subjunctive,which is "realized like the imperative, by the base form of the verb"
  2. the past subjunctive, which "is conveniently called the WERE-SUBJUNCTIVE, since it survives as a distinguishable form only in the past tense of the verb BE"

The forms had, did, owned, was etc., used in hypothetical conditions are not referred to as subjunctives and are not given in examples of subjunctives. Though they fulfil a similar purpose to subjunctives in other languages, they are referred to as the 'hypothetical past".

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language similarly describes two forms

  1. the subjunctive,which is realized by the "plain form"
  2. the irrealis, which includes only the form were.

The forms had, did, owned, was etc., used in hypothetical conditions are 'not referred to as subjunctives but as examples of the preterite used to express "modal remoteness", similar to the use of the preterite in indirect speech ("backshifting").

If we are to classify something as "pluperfect subjunctive", we need some reliable sources, and we probably need attribution. --Boson (talk) 21:47, 15 March 2017 (UTC)

Revision Needed for "Compound forms, auxiliaries and modals"[edit]

This section has a lot of problems. Some of it is just plain wrong, and other parts are misleading. I will put a tag on this and I hope someone with more time can update it. There's only one source, but that's not really the problem. I doubt sources would make much difference since so much questionable material is available. Wikipedia is often an ugly blend of traditional grammar (misinformed Latin-based grammar) and modern linguistic research. I'm keeping that in mind, but for whoever updates the material, if you really want to refer to traditional grammar, please keep that separate from information from modern linguistics. Also as a practical matter, the language needs to be simple enough for most people to understand. This isn't a page for linguists or academics.

  1. (it's important that) he do (not) own (one) -- I've never seen this, and I'm not sure why this is here. Is this actually grammatical? I can't imagine an argument where I would say something like this. Google NGrams doesn't see it. Shakespeare is not an explanation either. He was writing poetry and not even using modern English.
  2. I also doubt that the "auxiliary and past subjunctive did" exists -- if we say "It was important that he did own one" -- it sounds like there's nothing subjunctive there. He really owned it.
  3. "A compound past subjunctive form" -- How is this a form, or even a term? Who gave it that name? I could also say "If I had to own one..." and no name is needed for this.
  4. Ditto for "A compound pluperfect subjunctive." Common sense English needs to be used.
  5. "The English modal verbs do not have present subjunctive forms" That's only true if we forget about things like "May the force be with you."
  6. "The auxiliary should is used to make another compound form that might be regarded as a subjunctive" as in It's important that he should be cured. -- Most native speakers would not find this grammatical. That's because most native speakers still use present subjunctive constructions (often used in news reports). So "might be regarded" is actually a way to say that people typically do not regard that as grammatical. Also, should is obviously regarded as subjunctive anyway (should that happen... and if I should die...).
  7. Last and least, words like "perchance" should not be used on Wikipedia. It doesn't matter if you're referencing Shakespeare or not. Be professional.

Also, in my personal opinion, there are serious problems with the terminology -- for example "As a present subjunctive, it (do) is identical to the bare infinitive." I would not use the term "bare infinitive" at all -- who decided that a form of a verb naturally has "to" in it? We are not removing "to" to get the "bare" infinitive, we're just talking about the base form of the verb. Also, the base form and the present subjunctive form are always the same, so it makes absolutely no sense to say that. It makes people believe that sometimes they are different.

I only carefully read this section, and unfortunately I don't have time to propose changes. In any case, I hope this helps. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:04, 15 April 2017 (UTC)

I have removed a paragraph that has been flagged as unsourced since 2014.
As regards point 6, I believe the use of should as an alternative to the present subjunctive is normal in British English. I would not, however, say that it could be "regarded as a subjunctive".
The whole section could perhaps be reduced to a few (sourced) sentences indicating that the subjunctive forms be, have, and were can also be used as auxiliaries.
In my view, the article also suffers generally from, largely unsourced, attempts to use the term subjunctive as if it included other ways of expressing modality. Whether we use more traditional terms like "hypothetical past tense" or terms like "modal preterite", we should avoid giving the impression that it is the mainstream view (or even a mainstream view) to regard such modal use of the preterite/past tense ("If I was/had/did/owned") as a form of the subjunctive. More mainstream, I would say, is the definition used in, say, A Glossary of English Grammar by Geoffrey Leech (i.e. the subjunctive includes three types: (1) the mandatory (present) subjunctive, (2) the formulaic (present) subjunctive (as in "God bless you") and the (past) subjunctive with were (as in "If I were you ...").
--Boson (talk) 21:31, 15 April 2017 (UTC)