Subjunctive summary fall 14 - engl-mitchell2

Garner’s Modern American Usage (with a Bit of Mitchell)
on the Subjunctive Mood
Bryan Garner defines “mood” as “the characteristic of a verb’s form that shows
the speaker’s attitude, and expresses whether the action or state it denotes is a
fact, command, possibility, or wish.” There are several moods. The imperative
mood, for example, is “used to express a command, or to instruct, incite, or
encourage” (as in “Go jump in the lake!”). The indicative mood—the one most
commonly used—expresses “an idea as objective fact” (as in “I am jumping in
the lake). The subjunctive mood “expresses an action or state not as a reality, but
as a mental conception.”
In modern English, as Garner says, verb forms in the subjunctive mood appear
primarily in six contexts:
(1) conditions contrary to fact
 if I were king [not am]
 if I had a hammer [not have]
 if I had had a hammer [not had] (A variation: had I had a hammer)
More examples:
 But the truth is, if it hadn’t been [not hasn’t been] for a last-minute infusion
of cash, the initiative would not [or could not, or might not; not will not, or
cannot, or may not] have garnered enough signatures to be on the ballot.
 I felt as though I were [not was] using an alias, a well-used and permanent
one as the years went by, but an alias nevertheless.
(2) suppositions
 If he were [not was] to go, he wouldn’t be able to finish this project.
(3) wishes
 I wish that I were [not was] able to play piano.
 I wish that I could [not can] play the piano
(4) demands and commands [Note the role of “that.”]
 I insisted that he go. [not goes]
More examples:
 Britain’s farmers are worried that consumers are going to start demanding
that all British beef come [not comes] from herds free from confirmed cases
of BSE.
 Ike directed that every effort be [not is] made to do so
(5) suggestions and proposals [Note the role of “that.”]
I suggest that she think [not thinks] about it a little longer
More examples:
He suggests that his informant check [not checks] with Israeli intelligence.
And France proposes that the EC commit [not commits] itself to a single
currency by 1999.
(6) statements of necessity [Note the role of “that.”]
 It’s necessary that they be there. [not are]
More examples:
 His entrance into the military made it necessary that he use [not uses] the
birth-certificate version of his name.
 It will be necessary that he or she have [not has] a solid understanding of
school finances.
Most of these subjunctive usages involve actions or states of being that
 did not happen or exist but might have happened or existed,
 did not happen or exist until a demand of some kind was made, or
 are not happening or existing but might happen or exist in the future.
The subjunctive exists in our language (and others) because there are times when
people need to discuss actions or states of being that were once, or are now, only
Many subjunctive verb forms in English are the same as the indicative verb
forms, but some are not. You can find a useful table showing subjunctive
forms, as well as detailed descriptions of subjunctive usages, at