Mood in Grammar

What Is Mood in Grammar?

homesitemapA-Z grammar terms mood in grammar
Mood is the form a verb takes to show how it is to be regarded (e.g., as a fact, a command, a wish, an uncertainty).

There are three moods in English:
  • The Indicative Mood. The indicative mood states a fact or asks a question. For example:
    • The sky is blue.
    • Why is the sky blue?
  • The Imperative Mood. The imperative mood expresses an order. For example:
    • Make your bed.
    • Go away!
  • The Subjunctive Mood. The subjunctive mood shows a wish, a suggestion, a demand, or condition contrary to fact. For example:
    • I wish it were true.
    • I demand he be released.
mood of a verb examples

Examples of the Indicative Mood

The indicative mood states a fact or asks a question.
  • The cat sat on the mat.
  • Is the cat on the mat?
  • A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere. (Comedian Groucho Marx)
Read more about the indicative mood.

Examples of the Imperative Mood

The imperative mood expresses a command or a request.
  • Get out!
  • Please leave the building calmly.
  • Don't give up on your dreams. Keep sleeping.
Read more about the imperative mood.

Examples of the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is the complicated one. It shows a wish, a suggestion, a demand, or condition contrary to fact.
  • He wishes it were him.
  • (This is a wish. Note the use of "were" instead of "was.")
  • I suggest he be told.
  • (This is a suggestion. Note the use of "be" instead of "is.")
  • I demand he apologise.
  • (This is a demand. Note the use of "apologise" instead of "apologises.")
  • If I were you, I'd leave.
  • (This is a condition contrary to fact. Note the use of "were" instead of "was.")

More Examples of the Subjunctive Mood

Here's another explanation with some real-life examples.

The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to explore a hypothetical situation, including:

Expressing a wish.
  • Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better. (Entrepreneur Jim Rohn)
Making a suggestion.
  • I suggest a chip be put in future robots' brains to shut them off if they have murderous thoughts. (Physicist Michio Kaku)
Making a demand.
  • The demand that I make of my reader is that he devote his whole life to read my works. (Irish novelist James Joyce)
Expressing a condition contrary to fact.
  • When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees. (President Abraham Lincoln)

More about the Subjunctive Mood

This table summarizes how a verb changes when it's in the subjunctive mood.
Normal Example Subjunctive Form Subjunctive Example
I am available.
You are lucky.
She is here.
be I demand that I be available.
I ask that you be truthful.
It's essential that she be here.
She has a chance. have I demand she have a chance.
I was free.
He was happy.
were If I were free, I'd go.
I wish he were happy.
She makes sushi. prepare, work, sing, etc.
(remove the s)
I propose she make sushi.

Verbs That Attract the Subjunctive Mood

The following verbs often attract the subjunctive mood: "to ask," "to command," "to demand," "to insist," "to order," "to recommend," "to suggest" and "to wish."
  • All we ask of a president is that he be likeable. We seem to have given up on the Pentagon's corrupt use of our tax dollars. (Author Donella Meadows)
  • If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater suggest that he wear a tail. (Author Fran Lebowitz)

Adjectives That Attract the Subjunctive Mood

The following adjectives – especially when used with the word "that" – often attract the subjunctive mood: "crucial," "essential," "important," "imperative" and "necessary."
  • It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. (Political activist Thomas Paine)

Well-Known Terms Featuring the Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood also features in some well-known terms.
  • God save the Queen.
  • (I wish that "God save the Queen".)
  • May The Force be with you. (Star Wars)
Read even more about the subjunctive mood.

More about Mood

With the exception of an imperative sentence, the sentence type gives no indication to the mood.
MoodSentence Type
Indicative Mood
Imperative Mood
Subjunctive Mood
  • If I were there, I would.
  • (declarative sentence)
  • I demand he be removed!
  • (exclamatory sentence)
  • What if he were there?
  • (interrogative sentence)

Why Mood in Grammar Is Important

Here are two good reasons to care about mood in grammar.

(Reason 1) Use the subjunctive mood because it usually sounds better to the native ear...and you can show off.

Native English speakers create sentences in the indicative and imperative moods easily. The same is not always true about the subjunctive mood.

Outside set terms (e.g., "If I were you"), verbs in the subjunctive mood sometimes sound awkward. Mostly, though, verbs in the subjunctive mood sound aesthetically pleasing to the native ear.

As we've already seen, verbs can change in the subjunctive mood (most commonly, "was" becomes "were" and "is" becomes "be"), but an unchanged verb will nearly always go unchallenged. Therefore, we should expect the subjunctive mood to continue fading until, maybe sadly for some, its use is considered archaic.
  • I demand he apologise. (subjunctive version)
  • (This is correct, and it sounds quite highbrow.)
  • I demand he apologises. (non-subjunctive version)
  • (Almost nobody would challenge this.)
If anything, it's the subjunctive version (outside set terms) that grates on the native ear nowadays. But, we haven't quite reached the stage where the subjunctive version is out of date. This means you can use it. And, you should use it. Why? Well, you get to use the term "subjunctive mood" when challenged. They'll Google it, and you'll be right. That's why you should care about mood, or at least the subjunctive mood.

(Reason 2) Understanding mood will help when learning a foreign language.

Mood is a term you will hear when learning foreign languages (many of which have far more changes than our "optional" ones), so it's worth having a basic understanding of mood to assist with cracking their verb changes.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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