Forms and meanings
1. The subjunctive mood is used for order. Suppositions, contrary-to fact conditions, future possibilities, doubts, wishes, and necessities. The most common of these are country-to-fact conditions. The main idea f the subjunctive mood is expression of a hypothetical or contingent event.. e.g. :
If she were older, we could take her with us. (contrary to fact)
I wish she were old enough to go with us. (wish )
She acts as if she were older. (doubt )
2. The subjunctive mood of most verbs is different from the indicative mood only in the third person singular. The s is dropped in the subjunctive. e.g. :
Indicative: He swims every day.
Subjunctive: It is important that he swim every day.
3. The subjunctive mood of the verb TO BE uses BE in the present tense throughout, and WERE in the past tense throughout e.g. :
It is important that they be on their guard.
She wishes she was/were as graceful as her mother.
4. Subjunctive mood sentences that are conditional have two clauses, one independent and one dependent; the later begins with IF.
Note the following tense progressions in this type of construction:
a. When the if / conditional sentence has the dependent clause in the present tense, the main clause will be in the future tense.
This is called a future-unreal condition:
If I hurry, I will be at school on time.
If you follow the directions carefully, this cake will be delicious.
b. When the if / conditional sentence has the dependent clause in the past tense, the main clause will use WOULD, SHOULD, COULD, or MIGHT. This is called a present-unreal condition:
If I followed the directions carefully, this cake would be delicious.
If he had the time, he’d take a vacation.
If my father were here, he could show you.
c. When the if/conditional sentence has the dependent clause in the past perfect tense, the main clause will use WOULD HAVE, SHOULD HAVE, COULD HAVE, or MIGHT HAVE. This is called a past-unreal condition:
If I had followed the directions carefully, this cake would have been delicious.
If he had the time, he’d have taken a vacation.
If my father had been here, he could have shown you.
The subjunctive is a special kind of present tense which has no -s in the third person singular. It is sometimes used in that-clauses in a formal style, especially in American English, after words which express the idea that something is important or desirable (e.g. suggest, recommend, ask, insist, vital, essential, important, advice). The same forms are used in both present and past sentences.
It is essential that every child have the same educational opportunities.
We felt it was important that James write to Uncle Arthur as soon as possible.
Our advice is that the company invest in new equipment.
The judge recommended that Simmons remain in prison for at least three years.
N.B: Do is not used in negative subjunctives. Note the word order.
We considered it desirable that he not leave school before finishing his exams.
Be has special subjunctive forms: I be, you be etc.
It is important that Helen be present when we sign the papers.
The Director asked that he be allowed to advertise for more staff.
The forms I were and he/she/it were, used for example after if and wish in a formal style, are also a kind of subjunctive.
If I were you I should stop smoking.
I wish it were Saturday.
Subjunctives are also used in certain fixed phrases. Examples:
God save the King/Queen!
Long live the bride and groom!
God bless you!
Heaven forbid. or God forbid!
He's a sort of adopted uncle, as it were. (=... in a way.)
Be that as it may. .. (= Whether that is true or not. . .)
If we have to pay £2,000, then so be it. (= We can't do anything to change it.)
Most subjunctive structures are formal and unusual in British English. In that-clauses, British people usually prefer should + infinitive , or ordinary present and past tenses.
It is essential that every child should have the same educational opportunities. (OR... that every child has...)
We felt it was important that James should write to Uncle Arthur as soon as possible. (OR... that James wrote...)
Older English had more subjunctive forms, and used them in many kinds of 'unreal' sense to talk about possible, desirable or imaginary situations. Many of these forms have disappeared from modern English, being replaced by uses of should, would and other modal verbs, by special uses of past tenses, and by ordinary verb forms.