Monday, May 12, 2008

Grammar Monday: Put on Your Stone-Washed Jeans for This Topic

Now, let's all do the step-and-snap. White man's overbite! GO!

If this week's topic had a theme song, I believe it would be this gem, circa 1990. Subjunctive mood must have loved 1990.



Subjunctive mood is the mood of wishful thinking, the woulda, coulda, shoulda of grammar books everywhere. Well, if it's even in your grammar book. I don't remember hearing anything at all about it before college, when it became one of my very favorite things. Subjunctive mood addresses a situation or circumstance that might have been, or might be, but simply isn't. The verbs used in this mood are sometimes called conditional verbs. We often employ be verbs, most commonly were and (duh) be to create subjunctive mood. I'll start with examples using were.

If I were a chef, I would be better able to prepare bok choy.

I wish he were a quiet child.

If Alice were here, we would have cake.

If he were a concert pianist, he would make more money than he does playing synthesizers with his friends.

We could go bicycling if it were warmer.


These are in the subjunctive mood because none of the situations exist; they are only wished for. I am not a chef, he is not a quiet child, Alice is not here, he is not a concert pianist, and it is not warmer. Similarly, we use the verb be to indicate a wished for scenario.

She asked that he be on time.

I suggested that the cat be let inside.

He insisted that he be allowed to leave on an earlier flight.


Again, these situations do not yet exist. He is not yet on time, the cat has not been let inside, he has not yet been allowed to leave on an earlier flight. In the case of be, these things are obviously all possible; they have just not yet come to pass.

The subjunctive mood is not restricted to were and be, of course. One can also use other verbs in conditional scenarios. These are sentences that suggest something that should be. These are often identified by the use of the word that before the conditional verb.

I insist that you finish the chocolates.

He urged that she go to church every Sunday.

She demanded that Jane eat the rest of her asparagus.


I like to call these the should examples because you could place the word should directly in front of each conditional verb, but like the silent you of directives, it is simply left out. You should finish the chocolates, she should go to church every Sunday, and Jane should eat the rest of her asparagus.

So there you have it. The wouldas, the couldas, the shouldas, the wishful thinking. If only these things were true. And maybe they will be.

Jane, go eat your asparagus.

(Thanks to Jenni for the topic.)

1 comment:

Shiz said...

Super video, dude.

And Shanghai bok choi is better than the original.