The Subjunctive

This is a reasonably helpful video on use #2 of the subjunctive (below).

 by Rob Humbracht


The subjunctive is one of those semi-obscure grammar rules that your students will not have heard of but that you need to know.  Students will think the subjunctive sounds weird since it involves using the infinitive form of the verb, even with singular subjects.  Weaker writers should avoid the subjunctive altogether, as stringing together correct subject-verb agreements is all that they can hope for.  But with a stronger writer, you should insist that she use the proper form of the subjunctive.



By the end of this lesson, you should be able to identify when to use the subjunctive and the appropriate form of the verb in each sentence.



examples adapted from wikipedia


Use #1 - Counterfactuals

The subjunctive is primarily used to express a statement that a speaker does not believe is true or that is contrary to fact.  For example:

More examples:

  • If I were a badger, I would choose that color.
  • He would let us know if he were planning to arrive late.Suppose that I were there now.
  • She looks as though she were going to kill him.
  • I wish [that] he were here now.
  • If only the door were unlocked.
  • I would rather [that] she were released.

Examples where the "if" is omitted:

  • Were you here,... (equivalent to If you were here,...)
  • Were he to shoot,... (equivalent to If he were to shoot, i.e. If he shot)
  • Had he written,... (equivalent to If he had written)
  • Were he to have lied,... (equivalent to If he were to have lied)
  • Should you feel hungry,... (equivalent to If you (should) feel hungry)


Use #2 - "That Clauses"

The second use of the subjunctive occurs in "that clauses" expressing a circumstance which is desired, demanded, recommended, necessary, or similar. Such a clause may be dependent on words such as:


  • insist

  • suggest

  • demand

  • prefer


  • necessary

  • desirable


  • recommendation

  • necessity


  • I insist (that) he leave now.

  • We asked that it be done yesterday.

  • It might be desirable that you not publish the story.

  • I support the recommendation that they not be punished.

  • I braked in order that the car stay on the road.

  • That he appear in court is a necessary condition for his being granted bail.

Note that after some words, both indicative and subjunctive are possible, with difference in meaning:

  • I insist that he is here (indicative, a forceful assertion of the fact that he is here)

  • I insist that he be here (subjunctive, a demand that the condition of his being here be fulfilled)

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