Subjunctive (or conditional) mood
Subjunctive (or conditional) mood
Now we come to a very difficult set of problems, namely those
connected with the subjunctive (or conditional) mood.
The chief difficulty analysis has to face here is the absence of a
mutual relation between meaning and form. Sometimes the same external
series of signs will have two or more different meanings depending on
factors lying outside the form itself, and outside the meaning of the
verb; sometimes the same modal meaning will be expressed by two
different series of external signs.
Let’s take, for example, the sequence we should come, which means
one thing in the sentence:
I think we should come here again to-morrow (here we should come
is equivalent to we ought to come); it means another thing in the
If we knew that he wants us we should come to see him (here we
should come denotes a conditional, i.e. an action depending on certain
conditions), and it means another thing again in the sentence:
How queer that we should come at the very moment when you were talking
about us! (here we should come denotes an action which has actually
taken place and which is considered as an object for comment).
The second point may be illustrated by comparing of two sentences,
I suggest that he go and he I suggest that should go, and we will for
the present neglect the fact that the first of the two variants is more
typical of American, and the second of British English.
Matters are still further complicated by two phenomena where we are
faced with a choice between polysemy and homonymy. One of these
concerns forms like lived, knew , etc. Such forms appear in two types
of contexts, of which one may be exemplified by the sentences, He lived
here five years ago, or I knew it all alone, and the other by the
sentences, If he lived here he would come at once, or, If I knew his
address I should write to him.
In sentences of the first type the form obviously is the past
tense of the indicative mood. The second type admits of two
interpretations: either the forms lived, knew, etc are the same forms
of past indicative that were used in the first type, but they have
acquired another meaning in this particular context, or else the forms
lived, knew, etc. are forms of some other mood, which only happen to be
homonymous with forms of the past indicative but are basically
Subjunctive mood may express suppositional or desirable action.
1. The verb to be has in present tense the form be for all
singular and plural persons. The verb to be in the past
tense has the form were for singular and plural persons (I
be, I were respectively).
2. Forms be or were are used for formation of Present and Past
Subjunctive mood in Passive voice (I be sent, I were sent
3. All other verbs in subjunctive mood differ from indicative
mood by the form of the third person of the Present time
without ending –s.
Using of forms of Subjunctive mood.
I. The forms of Present Subjunctive of the verb to be and of other
verbs are used :
a) In subordinate clauses of subject, beginning with
conjunction that after impersonal turns such as: it is
necessary (необходимо), it is important (важно), it is
desirable (желательно) and so on:
Ex. It is desirable that he be there at 5 o’clock.
(Желательно, чтобы он был здесь в пять часов.)
b) In subordinate clauses of object, expressing order, offer,
resoluteness, accord – to order, to command приказать, to
suggest, to propose предлагать, to decide решать, to agree
The workers demanded that the law be put into effect.
c) In subordinate clauses of purpose after conjunction lest:
Ex. They covered the goods with canvas lest they be damaged
by rain. (Они покрыли товар брезентом, чтобы они не были
Present Subjunctive is used mainly in the USA, in England this
form is remained only in official language (acts of the law,
document); in a modern literary language and in a spoken language
Present Subjunctive is replaced by construction should with
The form of Past Subjunctive of the verb to be- were is used:
a) In a subordinate part of conditional sentences of the second
Ex. If he were here, he would help us. ( Если бы он был здесь, он
помог бы нам.)
If I were you, I would accept their offer. (Если бы я был на
вашем месте, я бы принял их предложение.)
b) In subordinate sentences of course of action (образа
действия), beginning with conjunctive as if:
Ex. He spoke as if he were a specialist on the subject. ( Он
говорил, как если бы он был специалистом по этому вопросу.)
c) In subordinate sentences of object with the verb to wish:
Ex. I wish he were with! (Как я хотела, чтобы он был с нами.)
From all forms of Subjunctive mood the form were is the most
spread, but it is often replaced by the form was in the first and
the third persons of a singular form. It is especially typical for
Ex. If he was here, he would help us.
Thus, those few forms of the Subjunctive mood that are preserved in
the modern language are gradually ousted from it.
The desirable and suppositional actions are expressed also by the
following combinations: should, would, may, might plus infinitive,
which perform the functions of the Subjunctive mood.
Ex. There are some suggestions that might help in our work.
(Имеются некоторые предположения, которые могли бы помочь в нашей
Conditional sentences are closely connected with subjunctive
(conditional) mood. There are three types of conditional sentences.
Conditional sentences of the first type express entirely real
and realizable suppositions and correspond in Russian language to
conditional sentences with verbs in indicative mood. These
conditional sentences mostly express suppositions referring to the
Ex. If the weather is fine to-morrow, we shall go to the
country. (Если завтра будет хорошая погода, мы поедем за город.)
There is no necessity to further consider this type of conditional
sentences as they do not conform to the theme.
The conditional sentences of the second type express
incredible and improbable suppositions. They refer to the present
or future and in Russian language agree with conditional sentences
with verbs in Subjunctive mood (i.e. in the form of past tens with
the particle бы in Russian language). In the conditional sentences
of the second type in subordinate clause (in condition) there used
the form of Past Indefinite and in main clause (in consequence) – a
combination of should or would with Indefinite Infinitive:
Ex. If Helen knew** about Alice’s arrival (now), she would
call her up. (Если бы Елена знала о прибытии Алисы, она бы ей
(Given sentence is incredible as Helen does not know about
Alice’s arrival that is why she can not call her up.)
Ex. If my brother had** a time now, he would help them. ( Если
бы у моего брата было время, он бы помог нам.)
(This sentence is also impossible as the brother has not time
now that is why he can not help us.)
** We have here Subjunctive mood which however coincides
with the form of Past Indefinite of Indicative mood.
The combinations such as:
1. Should (with all persons) with Infinitive without particle to;
2. Were (with all persons) with Infinitive with particle to.
are used along with Past Indefinite in order to underline a small
possibility of realization of a fact in future.
Ex. If I should see him to-morrow,
I should ask him about it.
If I were to see him to-morrow,
I should ask him about it.
(Если бы я увидел его завтра, я спросил бы его об этом.)
In subordinate clauses there used sometimes combinations of
would with Infinitive. In this case the verb would is not an
auxiliary verb but serves to show a request.
Ex. We should be obliged if you would acknowledge receipt of
this letter. (Мы были бы обязаны, если бы Вы подтвердили (были
любезны подтвердить) получение этого письма).
The following examples of sentences may also be regarded as
sentences of unreal conditions for the present and future:
1. I wish I knew it. (Как жаль, что я этого не знаю).
2. I fear lest he should be late. (Я боюсь, как бы он не
3. He spoke as if he were a doctor. (Он говорил так, как-будто
4. I suggest that he should go there too. (Я предлагаю, чтобы
он тоже туда пошел).
5. Knew Helen his address she would visit him. (Знай Елена его
адрес, она бы навестила его).
6. It is necessary that he should come. (Необходимо, чтобы он
Conditional sentences of the third type express suppositions
referring to the past and that is why they are unrealizable. Like
the Conditional sentences of the second type they correspond in
Russian language to the Conditional sentences with a verb in
Subjunctive mood (i.e. with a verb in the form of past tens with a
particle бы in Russian language).
In the Conditional sentences of the third type in the
subordinate clause (in the condition) there used the form of Past
Perfect and in the main clause (in the consequence) there used a
combination would with Perfect Infinitive (without to).
Ex. If your instructions had been received** ten days ago, the
goods would have been shipped by the S.S “Svir” yesterday. (Если бы
ваши указания были получены десять дней назад, товар был бы
отгружен вчера пароходом «Свирь»).
** We have here the form of Subjunctive mood which coincides
with the form of Past Perfect of Indicative mood.
The unreal condition of the past moment can be expressed also
by other ways:
1. Without using of conjunction If:
Ex. Had I seen him yesterday I should have informed him.
(Увидь я его вчера, я бы сообщил ему об этом.)
2. By using of the model verb might:
Ex. He might have done it if he tried.
(Он смог бы это сделать, если бы попытался).
4. By using of the verb wish:
Ex. I wish(ed) I had known him then.
(Как жаль, что я его не знала тогда).
It is worth while giving example of the case of using the
Conditional sentences of the mixed type:
Ex. If you had worked harder then you would know English
better. (Если бы ты занимался усерднее (раньше, когда-то), (сейчас)
ты бы знал английский лучше).
Finally, it is appropriate mention here those scholars who
devoted themselves to studying the problems of moods:
M. Deutschbein (he proposed 16 moods);
Prof. Smirnitsky (he proposed the system of 6 moods:
indicative, imperative, subjunctive1, subjunctive2, suppositional
Prof. G. Vorontsova;
M. Gantina and N. Vasilevskaya and others.