Advanced Grammar - The Subjunctive in English

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The subjunctive in English

Many Latin-based languages divide verbs into two different "moods" - indicative (indicates) and subjunctive (subjective).

These languages use the subjunctive on a regular, daily basis, so their speakers know how to conjugate common verbs in their subjunctive forms.

English has mostly lost the use of the subjunctive, except in some very specific cases. 

For example, "It is important that he go to the store before it closes." Normally, "he" is followed by "goes". But the impersonal statement, "It is important that" requires the subjunctive.

Another example, "I suggested that she do her homework before watching tv." As with the first example, "do" is usually "does" after the pronoun "she".

Two common examples that you might see in your readings or hear in listenings:

I asked that he not cut the cake before the guests arrive. Meaning, "I asked him not to cut the cake". 

If he were better trained, he would not make those mistakes.

Here are some other examples you might see:

He insists that she write the letter today.

It is better that he leave now instead of later. (Impersonal: it is important that, it is necessary that, it is desirable that)


You do not need to write the subjunctive or even use it when you speak, except for the second conditional, where it is considered more correct to say, and write, If I were you instead of "I was, he or she was"





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