Mood

Mood

Mood is the form a verb takes to show how it is to be regarded (e.g., as a fact, a command, a wish, an uncertainty).

There are three moods in English: indicative mood, the imperative mood and the subjunctive mood.

Examples of the Indicative Mood

The indicative mood states a fact or asks a question.
  • The cat sat on the mat.
  • Is the cat on the mat?
  • A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere. (Comedian Groucho Marx)

Examples of the Imperative Mood

The imperative mood expresses a command or a request.
  • Get out!
  • Please leave the building calmly.
  • Don't give up on your dreams. Keep sleeping.

Examples of the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is the complicated one. It shows a wish, a suggestion, a demand or condition contrary to fact.
  • He wishes it were him.
  • (This is a wish. Note the use of were instead of was.)
  • I suggest he be told.
  • (This is a suggestion. Note the use of be instead of is.)
  • I demand he apologise.
  • (This is a demand. Note the use of apologise instead of apologises.)
  • If I were you, I'd leave.
  • (This is a condition contrary to fact. Note the use of were instead of was.)

More Examples of the Subjunctive Mood

Here's another explanation with some real-life examples.

The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to explore a hypothetical situation, including:
Expressing a wish.
  • Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better. (Entrepreneur Jim Rohn)
Making a suggestion.
  • I suggest a chip be put in future robots' brains to shut them off if they have murderous thoughts. (Physicist Michio Kaku)
Making a demand.
  • The demand that I make of my reader is that he devote his whole life to reading my works. (Irish novelist James Joyce)
Expressing a condition contrary to fact.
  • When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees. (President Abraham Lincoln)
There is an entry on the subjunctive mood.

More about Mood

With the exception of an imperative sentence, the sentence type gives no indication to the mood.
MoodSentence Type
Indicative Mood
  • It has arrived. (declarative sentence)
  • It's arrived! (exclamatory sentence)
  • Has it arrived? (interrogative sentence)
Imperative Mood
  • Please leave. (imperative sentence)
  • Get out! (imperative and an exclamatory sentence)
Subjunctive Mood
  • If I were there, I would. (declarative sentence)
  • I demand he be removed! (exclamatory sentence)
  • What if he were there? (interrogative sentence)

Why Should I Care about Mood?

Native English speakers create sentences in the indicative and imperative moods easily. The same is not always true about the subjunctive mood.

Outside set terms (e.g., If I were you), verbs in the subjunctive mood sometimes sound awkward. Mostly, though, verbs in the subjunctive mood sound aesthetically pleasing to the native ear. As we've already seen, verbs can change in the subjunctive mood (most commonly, was becomes were and is becomes be), but an unchanged verb will nearly always go unchallenged. Therefore, we should expect the subjunctive mood to continue fading until, maybe sadly for some, its use is considered archaic.
  • I demand he apologise. (subjunctive version)
  • (This is correct, and it sounds quite highbrow.)
  • I demand he apologises. (non-subjunctive version)
  • (Almost nobody would challenge this.)
If anything, it's the subjunctive version (outside set terms) that grates on the native ear nowadays. But, we haven't quite reached the stage where the subjunctive version is out of date. This is means you can use it. And, you should use it. Why? Well, you get to use the term "subjunctive mood" when challenged. They'll Google it, and you'll be right. That's why should care about mood, or at least the subjunctive mood.

Mood is also a term you will hear when learning foreign languages (many of which have far more changes than our "optional" ones), so it's worth having a basic understanding of mood to assist with cracking their verb changes.

More about the Subjunctive Mood

This table summarises how a verb changes when it's in the subjunctive mood.
Normal Form Normal Example Subjunctive Form Subjunctive Example
am, are, is
(to be in the present tense)
I am available.
You are lucky.
She is here.
be I demand that I be available.
I ask that you be truthful.
It's essential that she be here.
has
(third person singular of to have in the present tense)
She has a chance. have I demand she have chance.
was
(first person and third person singular of to be in the past tense)
I was free.
He was happy.
were If I were free, I'd go.
I wish he were happy.
prepares, works, sings, etc.
(third-person-singular verbs in the present tense, i.e., ones ending s)
She makes sushi. prepare, work, sing, etc.
(remove the s)
I propose she make sushi.

Real-Life Examples of the Subjunctive Mood

  • If I were in the Beatles, I'd be a good George Harrison. (Musician Noel Gallagher)
The following verbs often attract the subjunctive mood: to ask, to command, to demand, to insist, to order, to recommend, to suggest and to wish.
  • All we ask of a president is that he be likeable. We seem to have given up on the Pentagon's corrupt use of our tax dollars. (Author Donella Meadows)
  • Saddam Hussein systematically violated every UN resolution that demanded he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons. (US politician Henry Waxman)
  • Don't make election popularity a matter of which candidate hires the most creative propagandists. Insist that it be a running conversation with the public. (Actor Ron Howard)
  • If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater suggest that he wear a tail. (Author Fran Lebowitz)
The following adjectives especially when used with the word that often attract the subjunctive mood: crucial, essential, important, imperative and necessary
  • It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. (Political activist Thomas Paine)
  • When unseen forces come together to provide a man with the strength and capacity to achieve something great, it is essential that he use the time responsibly and timely. (Author Eyler Robert Coates)
The subjunctive mood also features in some well-known terms.
  • God bless you.
  • (I wish that "God bless you".)
  • God save the Queen.
  • (I wish that "God save the Queen".)
  • May The Force be with you. (Star Wars)
  • The real scientist is ready to bear hardship and, if need be, starvation rather than let anyone dictate which direction his work must take. (Biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi)
  • (If needs be is also common.)

Key Points

  • If you're learning a foreign language whose verbs change according to mood, it's worth having a basic understanding of what mood is in English.
  • Outside set terms, the subjunctive mood is fading in English, but you should use it because:
    • It usually sounds good to the native ear.
    • It usually sounds more highbrow.
    • It's a missed opportunity to show off if you don't.
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