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The subjunctive form

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Summary

The subjunctive form

In a nutshell

The subjunctive is a verb form used to talk about things which could or should happen. The subjunctive is used to explore hypothetical situations and express wishes and dreams, as well as suggestions and requests. In this summary, you'll learn when to use the subjunctive in your writing and how to identify it in a sentence.



Making suggestions and demands

One use of the subjunctive is in sentences which convey urgency or importance about something. Verbs showing importance such as adviserecommend, urge, ask, insist, request, or demand are followed by a verb in the subjunctive to indicate that that verb should or could happen.​


Example

Mrs Brown insisted that Rory clean his desk out.


In this example, the verb clean is in the subjunctive. That means that Rory should clean out his desk but it's not certain whether or not he will.



Forming the subjunctive

The subjunctive form of a verb is the same as its infinitive root (the base form of the verb, e.g. to eat, to run, to fly), but without the to. This means to make a present tense verb subjunctive you usually don't have to change anything. 


present tense

subjunctive

I / you / we / they eat

I / you / we / they eat


The exception is when using the third person (he, she, it), as these subjects in the present tense carry -s on the end. Therefore to make a third person verb subjunctive you simply have to remove the -s


​​present tense

subjunctive

he / she / it eats

he / she / it eat


In the table below you can see some examples of verbs displaying urgency or importance followed by a subjunctive.


Noun or pronoun

Verb (showing importance or urgency)

that

noun or pronoun

subjunctive verb (infinitive root)

I

suggest

that

he

go

​​They

recommend

that

Ellie

arrive

Mr Clark

asks

that

we

listen

She

requested

that

the class

be



Tip: Amis, and are are all part of the verb to be in the present tense, so they all change to simple ​be in the subjunctive.



Talking about hopes and dreams

Another use of the subjunctive is to talk about hopes and dreams, express desires or wishes for the future. To use this form of the subjunctive you use were which is also a part of the verb to be.


Examples
  • I wish I were rich.
  • He wishes you were here.
  • If they were there, they'd come too.
  • If I were older, I'd buy those.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

How do you express a wish in the subjunctive?

How do you form the subjunctive?

What is the subjunctive?

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