In Indo-European, the subjunctive was formed by using the full ablaut grade of the root of the verb, and appending the thematic vowel *-e- or *-o- to the root stem, with the full, primary set of personal inflections. The subjunctive was the Indo-European irrealis, used for hypothetical or counterfactual situations.
Among the Indo-European languages, only Albanian, Avestan, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, and to some extent Old Church Slavonic kept the subjunctive and optative fully separate and parallel. However, in Sanskrit, use of the subjunctive is only found in the Vedic language of earliest times, and the optative and imperative are in comparison less commonly used. In the later language (from c.500BC), the subjunctive fell out of use, with the optative or imperative being used instead. However, the first person forms of the subjunctive continue to be used, as they are transferred to the imperative, which formerly, like Greek, had no first person forms.
|Present indicative||Present subjunctive||Past indicative||Past subjunctive|
|to be||I am|
As shown in the above table, the form of the subjunctive is distinguishable from the indicative in only three circumstances:
The modal auxiliaries do not have present subjunctive forms.
In Early Modern English, the past subjunctive was distinguishable from the past indicative not only in the verb to be (as in Modern English) but also in the second-person singular of all verbs. For example: indicative thou sattest, but subjunctive thou sat.
Nevertheless, in some texts in which the pronoun thou is used a final -est or -st is sometimes added; for example, thou beest appears frequently in the work of Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries.
For example, in "I asked that it be done yesterday," be done (a present subjunctive) has no present-tense sense; and likewise, in "If that were true, I'd know it," were (a past subjunctive) has no past-tense sense.
The pluperfect subjunctive is used like the past subjunctive, except that it expresses a past-tense sense. So, for example:
When used in the construction of a counterfactual statement as in the examples above, it is paired with the conditional perfect viz. "If I had [not] X, then I would [not] have Y". The (arguably) canonical example of the counterfactual actually eschews the pluperfect subjunctive: If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake. This should, of course, be If I Had Known… .
If a clause is in a past tense, then a clause subordinate to it cannot be in the past subjunctive, though it might be in the pluperfect subjunctive; however, if it is in a present tense, then a clause subordinate to it might be in either of the two, depending on meaning.
The pluperfect subjunctive is often replaced with the past subjunctive in colloquial speech, a substitution that is commonly considered incorrect. (See prescription and description.)
(Note that by contrast, the present perfect subjunctive — that he have done — while logically and theoretically possible, is not much used in modern English.)
The word would (the past tense of "will") can also be used for the past (for example, "He wrote it in his diary so that he would remember"), but it cannot be used in the present or future tense ("Would the teacher come, I will speak with him" is incorrect and confusing).
Incorrect: If I was you, I would run.
Correct: If I were you, I would run. (The verb follows if and expresses a non-factual condition.)
Incorrect: I wish he was able to type faster.
Correct: I wish he were able to type faster. (The second verb is in a clause following a verb expressing a wish. It also suggests a non-factual or doubtful condition.)
Incorrect: His requirement is that everyone is computer literate.
Correct: His requirement is that everyone be computer literate. (Subordinate clause follows main clause with a demand.)
Incorrect: He recommended that each driver reports his tips.
Correct: He recommended that each driver report his tips.
Sometimes we may use the conditional auxiliary verbs of could, should, or would to express the same sense.
Subjunctive:I wish he were kinder to me. Conditional: I wish he would be kinder to me.
This use of the subjunctive is known as the mandative subjunctive or the jussive subjunctive and is said to be the most common use of the subjunctive in English. Other authorities say this use is much less common than that in suppositions or hypotheses (e.g. "If she asked for help, I'd help her.") and is often not found in UK English, even in respected news media.
Instead, UK English often uses present indicative or even past indicative − which are both considered incorrect by many people in the UK and (prescriptive) UK authorities on language usage − or a construction with "should". Much time is spent in the UK in trying to prevent this language change well underway in UK English, and the use with "should" is arguably better because not considered as ungrammatical by most. So instead of writing No wonder the Tory Party turned him down as a possible candidate, suggesting he went away and came back with a better public image. as in the Guardian (which would be almost impossible to find in any US newspapers, which would always use the traditional go away and come back), it would be considered less ungrammatical to use should go away. Some authorities like Ernest Gowers even recommend the use with should (in UK English) instead of the untenable traditional forms.
Note that the present subjunctive is used in these cases regardless of the actual time reference (which must be conveyed by the tense of the main verb):
Some of these words have two senses: one that introduces a clause in the indicative, and one that introduces a clause in the subjunctive. For example, insist can mean assert forcefully and persistently, in which case it introduces the indicative (He insisted that he was innocent), or it can mean demand forcefully and persistently, in which case it introduces the subjunctive (He insisted that he be given the chance to prove it). This use is typically North American English. The verb in such constructions is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a sort of infinitive, contributing to the notion of the dying subjunctive.
Sometimes the verb of a main clause can be in the subjunctive mood, without any explicit word like the above; this carries the force of a third-person request. This is the usage found in many set expressions, such as God bless you.
The traditional English text of the Aaronic blessing is cast entirely in the subjunctive, with jussive force:
The past subjunctive is used after the verb to wish: I wish he were here or I wished he were there. This use of the subjunctive is sometimes known as the "volitional" subjunctive:
In the same vein, the past subjunctive is used following the conjunctions as if and as though to express a contrary-to-fact situation that reality is supposed to resemble:
Note that the past subjunctive is sometimes used in expressing situations that are not necessarily contrary to fact:
The conjunction lest, indicating a negative purpose, generally introduces a subjunctive clause:
The conjunction in order that, indicating a positive purpose, also sometimes introduces a subjunctive clause, though it more commonly introduces a clause using the auxiliary verb may (or in the past tense, might):
In the example quoted, "if" is a substitute for the unambiguous word "whether" ("Johnny asked me whether I was afraid"), and lacks the usual, "in the event that" meaning that it has in other usage such as "If we go to bed now, we'll be up at three o'clock".
However, in the context of the examples above, inversion cannot occur with the indicative as it would with the subjunctive; the following are ungrammatical, except insofar as they could be misinterpreted as questions:
Furthermore, many of the fossil phrases are often re-analyzed as imperative forms rather than as the subjunctive.
According to the Random House College Dictionary, "Although the subjunctive seems to be disappearing from the speech of many, its use is still the mark of the educated speaker."
The subjunctive is not uniform in all varieties of spoken English. However it is preserved in speech, at least in North American English and in many dialects of British English. While use of the subjunctive in natural, informal speech is almost universal among educated speakers, its use is becoming very infrequent among large portions of the population. Some dialects replace it with the indicative or construct it using a modal verb (except perhaps in the most formal literary discourse).
Through the years, some have advocated the formal extinguishment of the subjunctive. W. Somerset Maugham said, "The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is to put it out of its misery as soon as possible."
The KI is normally used to express indirect (reported) speech. For example:
Er sagte mir, er sei nicht bereit. — He told me that he wasn't ready. In this case, present subjunctive 'sei' replaces the present indicative 'ist'.
This carries a neutral to slightly disclaimerish meaning: the claim reported may be (to the reporter using Konjunktiv) true or not, or unknown. If the speaker doubts the statement, Konjunktiv II may be used, however the usage of Konjunktiv forms does not always follow the principles strictly (Konjunktiv II may replace Konjunktiv I; Konjunktiv I sounds rather formal).
Es wurde gesagt, er habe keine Zeit für so (et)was. — It is said that he has no time for this kind of thing. In this case, present subjunctive 'habe' replaces the present indicative 'hat'.
Many examples of the subjunctive can be found in German newspapers and magazines.
The KI for regular verbs in German is formed by adding -e, -est, -e, -en, -et, -en to the stem. The verb sein (to be) deviates somewhat from this rule, producing ich sei; du sei(e)st; er sei; wir seien; ihr sei(e)t; sie seien. While the use of Konjunktiv I for reported speech is considered "correct" German, its use in colloquial speech is in continual decline.
It is possible to express the KI in various tenses, including the perfect (er sei da gewesen) and the future (er werde da sein) although the latter is rarely used. The Konjunktiv I in the preterite and conditional does exist, but they are identical to their indicative equivalents and are not worth considering in day-to-day communication.
The KII is used to form the conditional tense and, on occasion, as a replacement for the Konjunktiv I when both indicative and subjunctive moods of a particular verb are indistinguishable. Although every verb in the German language can be expressed in the Konjunktiv II, only a small number are actually used in this mood in colloquial speech, such as sein (ich wäre).
The simplest method of forming the conditional in spoken German is to render the verb werden (to become) in the Konjunktiv II form (würde) and append the infinitive of the action, as in An deiner Stelle würde ich das nicht tun (I wouldn't do that if I were you). This analytic method is opposed to the synthetic method: An deiner Stelle täte ich das nicht, which in the day-to-day communication is tendencially less frequent.
In written German, however, the synthetic form (ich täte) is seen by many dictionaries as the only proper form for the term, while the analytical form (ich würde tun) is a substitute that should be avoided as far as possible. Only the synthetic form is regarded as the language better, if you speak German upscale.
The KII is formed from the stem of the preterite (imperfect) form of the verb and appending the appropriate Konjunktiv I ending as appropriate, although in most regular verbs the final 'e' in the stem is dropped. In most cases, an umlaut is appended to the stem vowel if possible (i.e. if it is a, o, u or au), for example: ich war → ich wäre, ich brachte → ich brächte.
See also German grammar.
Some sentences that are used often in Dutch still contain the subjunctive mood:
The above sentences are all in the present tense, the past tense subjunctive mood of zijn (to be) is also used rather frequently to indicate a non-reality, something that didn't happen. It translates with the English past subjunctive were:
The subjunctive mood retains a highly distinct form for nearly all verbs in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian (among other Latin languages), and for a number of verbs in French. All of these languages inherit their subjunctive from Latin, where the subjunctive mood combines both forms and usages from a number of original Indo-European inflection sets (described above), including the original subjunctive and the optative mood.
In many cases, the Romance languages use the subjunctive in the same ways that English does; however, they use them in other ways as well. For example, English generally uses the auxiliary may or let to form desiderative expressions, such as "Let it snow." The Romance languages use the subjunctive for these; French, for example, would say, "Qu'il neige" and "Qu'ils vivent jusqu'à leur vieillesse." (However, in the case of the first-person plural, these languages have imperative forms: "Let's go" in French is "Allons-y.") Also, the Romance languages tend to use the subjunctive in various kinds of subordinate clauses, such as those introduced by words meaning although (English: "Although I'm old, I feel young"; French: Bien que je sois vieux, je me sens jeune.) In Spanish, phrases with words like lo que (that which, what), quien (who), or donde (where) and subjunctive verb forms are often translated to English with some variation of "whatever". (Spanish: "lo que sea", English: "whatever", "anything"; Spanish: "donde sea", English: "wherever"; Spanish: "quien sea", English: "whoever"; Spanish: "lo que quieras", English: "whatever you want"; Spanish: "cueste lo que cueste", English: "whatever it costs")
In French, despite the deep phonetic changes that the language has undergone from the original Latin, which include the loss of many inflections in the spoken language, the subjunctive (le subjonctif) remains prominent, largely because the subjunctive forms of many common verbs are strongly marked phonetically; compare the indicative je sais (I know) and its subjunctive counterpart je sache. (However, the present indicatives and present subjunctives of most verbs are homonyms when they have singular subjects: je parle [I speak] is both the present indicative and the present subjunctive.)
Use of the subjunctive is in many respects similar to English:
But sometimes not:
French also has an imperfect subjunctive, which in older, formal, or literary writing replaces the present subjunctive in a subordinate clause when the main clause is in a past tense:
Also in older, formal, or literary writing, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctives double as a "second form" of the conditional and conditional perfect, in which case they are used in both the protasis and the apodosis:
For more on the subjunctive in French, see French verbs.
The subjunctive is used mainly in subordinate clauses following a set phrase or conjunction, such as benché, senza che, prima che, or purché for example. It is also used with verbs of doubt, possibility and expressing an opinion or desire, for example with credo che, è possibile che, and ritengo che, and with superlatives and virtual superlatives.
One difference between the French subjunctive and the Italian is that Italian uses the subjunctive after expressions like "Penso che" ("I think that"), where French would use the indicative.
The present subjunctive is similar to, but still mostly distinguishable from, the present indicative. Subject pronouns are often used with the present subjunctive where they are normally omitted in the indicative, since in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular forms are spelt the same, so the person is not implicitly implied from the verb. Irregular verbs tend to follow the 1st person singular form, such as the present subjunctive forms of andare, which goes to vada etc (1st person sing form is vado).
The present subjunctive is used in a range of situations in clauses taking the subjunctive.
The present subjunctive is used mostly in subordinate clauses, as in the examples above. However, exceptions include imperatives using the subjunctive (using the 3rd person), and general statements of desire.
The imperfect subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses taking the subjunctive where the sense of the verb requires the imperfect tense.
The imperfect subjunctive is used in “if” clauses, where the main clause is in the conditional tense, as in English and German.
They are used in subordinate clauses which require the subjunctive, where the sense of the verb requires use of the perfect or pluperfect.
There are many common expressions that commonly introduce subjunctive clauses. Examples include:
Spanish has two past subjunctive forms. They are almost identical, except that where the "first form" has -ra-, the "second form" has -se-. Both forms are usually interchangeable although the -se- form may be more common in Spain than in other Spanish-speaking areas. The -ra- forms may also be used as an alternative to the conditional in certain structures.
How to form:
HOWEVER, as we all know, there are many irregular verbs in the Spanish language and the subjunctive tense is no exception. The following are the irregular verbs in subjunctive and their conjugations:
ALSO, one must remember the ever so lovely, CAR/GAR/ZAR verbs. For example:
Spanish used to have a future subjunctive tense, but it is now all but extinct. It is never heard in everyday speech, and is usually reserved for literature, archaic phrases and expressions, and legal documents. Phrases expressing the subjunctive in a future time-frame instead employ the present subjunctive. For example: "I hope it will rain tomorrow" would simply be "Espero que llueva mañana" (where llueva is the third-person singular present subjunctive of llover, "to rain").
As in Spanish, the imperfect subjunctive is in vernacular use, and it is employed, among other things, to make the tense of a subordinate clause agree with the tense of the main clause:
The imperfect subjunctive is also used when the main clause is in the conditional:
Note that there are authors who regard the conditional of Portuguese as a 'future in the past' of the indicative mood, rather than as a separate mood; they call it futuro do pretérito ("future of the past"), especially in Brazil.
Portuguese differs from other Romance languages in having retained the medieval future subjunctive (futuro do subjuntivo), which is rarely used in Spanish and Galician and has been lost in other West Iberian Romance languages. It expresses a condition that must be fulfilled in the future, or is assumed to be fulfilled, before an event can happen. Spanish and English will use the present tense in this type of clause.
For example, in conditional sentences whose main clause is in the conditional, Portuguese, Spanish and English employ the past tense in the subordinate clause. But if the main clause is in the future, Portuguese will employ the future subjunctive where English and Spanish use the present indicative. Contrast the following two sentences.
The first situation is counterfactual; we know that the speaker is not a king. But the second statement expresses a promise about the future; the speaker may yet be elected president.
For a different example, a father speaking to his son might say:
The future subjunctive is identical in form to the personal infinitive in regular verbs, but they differ in some irregular verbs of frequent use. However, the possible differences between the two tenses are due only to stem changes. They always have the same endings.
The present subjunctive of the regular verbs is formed by adding specific endings to the stem of the infinitive (e.g. El vrea să cânte, he wants to sing). The actual verbal form is preceded by the conjunction să. The present tense is by far the most widely used of the two subjunctive tenses and is used frequently after verbs that express wish, preference, permission, possibility, request, advice, etc.: a vrea to want, a dori to wish, a prefera to prefer, a lăsa to let, to allow, a ruga to ask, a sfătui to advise, a sugera to suggest, a recomanda to recommend, a cere to demand, to ask for, a interzice to forbid, a permite to allow, to give permission, a se teme to be afraid, etc.
When used independently, the subjunctive indicates a desire, a fear, an order or a request, i.e. has modal and imperative values. The present subjunctive is used in questions having the modal value of should:
The present subjunctive is often used as an imperative, mainly for other persons than the 2nd person. When used with the 2nd person, it is even stronger than the imperative. The 1st person plural can be preceded by the interjection hai, which intensifies the imperative meaning of the structure:
The subjunctive present is used in certain set phrases used as greetings in specific situations:
The past tense of the subjunctive mood has one form for all persons and numbers of all the verbs, which is să fi followed by the past participle of the verb. The past subjunctive is used after the past optative-conditional of the verbs that require the subjunctive (a trebui, a vrea, a putea, a fi bine, a fi necesar, etc.), in constructions that express the necessity, the desire in the past:
When used independently, the past subjunctive indicates a regret related to a past accomplished action that is seen as undesirable at the moment of speaking:
The subjunctive is used in that-clauses, after Arabic an: urīdu an aktuba "I want to write". However in conditional and precative sentences, such as "if he goes" or "let him go", a different form of the imperfective aspect, the jussive, majzūm, is used.
In many spoken Arabic dialects there remains a distinction between indicative and subjunctive, but there it is not through endings but a prefix. In Levantine Arabic, the indicative has b- while the subjunctive lacks it:
The Biblical subjunctive survives in the third person singular forms of the verbs to be (להיות — lihyot, יהי/תהי or יהא/תהא) and to live (לחיות — likhyot, יחי/תחי), mostly in a literary register:
Note that "demand" is no where near as rude as it might come across in English. It's a polite but firm request, but not as polite as, say, "would you...".
The characteristic letter in its ending is -j-, and in the definite conjunctive conjugation the endings appear very similar to those of singular possession, with a leading letter -j-.
An unusual feature of the mood's endings is that there exist a short and a long form for the second person singular (i.e. "you"). The formation of this for regular verbs differs between the indefinite and definite: the indefinite requires just the addition of -j, which differs from the longer ending in that the last two letters are omitted (-j and not -jel for example in menj above). The definite also drops two letters, but a different two. It drops, for example - the -ja- in -jad, leaving just -d, as can be seen in add above.
There are several groups of exceptions involving verbs that end in -t. The rules for how this letter, and a preceding letter, should change when the subjunctive endings are applied are quite complicated. As usual, gemination of a final sibilant consonant is demonstrated when a j-initial ending is applied:
When making references to the demands of others, the subjunctive is demonstrated: