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Subjunctive : Uses & Formation


 In modern English, the Simple Present Subjunctive is most commonly used in formal commands and requests. In the following examples, the verbs in the Simple Present Subjunctive are underlined.

e.g. They demand that he submit a report.
We request that you be here tomorrow.

The Simple Present Subjunctive is also still used in a few traditional expressions.
e.g. Long live the King!

The past tenses of the Subjunctive, and the auxiliary would, are used in expressing wishes.
e.g. I wish you were here.
I wish I had known that.
I wish the rain would stop.

The past tenses of the Subjunctive, and the auxiliary would, can also be used in order to indicate that conditions being expressed are false or improbable.
e.g. If I were rich, I would travel around the world.
If he had been here, he would have been glad to see you.

In the first example, the use of the Simple Past Subjunctive were and the Simple conjugation with would indicates that the condition expressed in the clause If I were rich is false or improbable. In the second example, the use of the Past Perfect Subjunctive had been, and the Perfect conjugation with would, indicates that the condition expressed in the clause If he had been here is false.


The English past and present tenses discussed in previous chapters are in what is usually referred to as the Indicative Mood. Each of the past and present tenses in the Indicative Mood has a corresponding tense in the Subjunctive Mood.

In modern English, most verb tenses in the Subjunctive Mood are similar or identical to the corresponding tenses in the Indicative Mood. It should be noted that verbs in the Subjunctive Mood do not modify, but have the same form regardless of the subject.

The Simple Present Subjunctive and Simple Past Subjunctive of the verb to be are shown below. The Indicative forms are also given, for purposes of comparison. The Subjunctive forms which differ from the corresponding Indicative forms are shown in bold type.

The simple indicative and subjunctive tenses of the verb To Be
Simple Present

  I am  I be
  you are  you be
  he is  he be
  she is  she be
  it is  it be
  we are  we be
  they are  they be

Simple Past

  I was  I were
  you were  you were
  he was  he were
  she was  she were
  it was  it were
  we were  we were
  they were  they were

For any verb, the Simple Present Subjunctive is formed from the bare infinitive of the verb.

For any verb except the verb to be, the Simple Past Subjunctive is identical to the Simple Past Indicative.

For all of the past and present tenses conjugated with auxiliaries, the Subjunctive tenses are formed in the same way as the Indicative tenses, except that the Subjunctive of the auxiliaries is used.

Using the example of the verb to work, the following table compares the tenses of the Indicative and Subjunctive Moods. The Subjunctive forms which differ from the corresponding Indicative forms are printed in bold type.

The indicative and subjunctive tenses of the verb To Work
Simple Present

  I work  I work
  you work  you work
  he works  he work
  she works  she work
  it works  it work
  we work  we work
  they work  they work

Present Continuous

  I am working  I be working
  you are working  you be working
  he is working  he be working
  she is working  she be working
  it is working  it be working
  we are working  we be working
  they are working  they be working

Present Perfect

  I have worked  I have worked
  you have worked  you have worked
  he has worked  he have worked
  she has worked  she have worked
  it has worked  it have worked
  we have worked  we have worked
  they have worked  they have worked

Present Perfect Continuous

  I have been working  I have been working
  you have been working  you have been working
  he has been working  he have been working
  she has been working  she have been working
  it has been working  it have been working
  we have been working  we have been working
  they have been working  they have been working

Simple Past

  I worked  I worked
  you worked  you worked
  he worked  he worked
  she worked  she worked
  it worked  it worked
  we worked  we worked
  they worked  they worked

Past Continuous

  I was working  I were working
  you were working  you were working
  he was working  he were working
  she was working  she were working
  it was working  it were working
  we were working  we were working
  they were working  they were working

Past Perfect

  I had worked  I had worked
  you had worked  you had worked
  he had worked  he had worked
  she had worked  she had worked
  it had worked  it had worked
  we had worked  we had worked
  they had worked  they had worked

Past Perfect Continuous

  I had been working  I had been working
  you had been working  you had been working
  he had been working  he had been working
  she had been working  she had been working
  it had been working  it had been working
  we had been working  we had been working
  they had been working  they had been working

The following table summarizes the formation of the English Subjunctive tenses:

AuxiliaryVerb Form
  Simple Present  do  bare infinitive
  Present Continuous  be  present participle
  Present Perfect  have  past participle
  Present Perfect Continuous  have been  present participle
  Simple Past  did  bare infinitive
  Past Continuous  were  present participle
  Past Perfect  had  past participle
  Past Perfect Continuous  had been  present participle
Formal Command and Request

The Simple Present Subjunctive was once more extensively used than it is today. In modern American English, the Simple Present Subjunctive is still used in clauses beginning with the word that which express formal commands or requests. In the following examples, the word that is printed in bold type, and the verbs in the Simple Present Subjunctive are underlined.
e.g. They requested that she arrive early.
It is important that they be present at the meeting.
The demand that he provide identification will create a delay.
The main clauses of the preceding examples are they requestedit is important and the demand will create a delay. In the first example, the verb requested is in the Simple Past; in the second example, the verb is is in the Simple Present; and in the third example, the verb will create is in the Simple Future.

As illustrated in these examples, the use of the Simple Present Subjunctive in the subordinate clause of a formal command or request is independent of the tense of the verb in the main clause.

The Simple Present Subjunctive is more commonly used in formal English than in informal English. For instance, the sentence “He advises that you not be late,” is an example of formal English. In informal English, the same idea would probably be expressed by the sentence “He advises you not to be late,” in which the infinitive is used, rather than a clause requiring the Simple Present Subjunctive.