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Are you in the Mood to Learn the Subjunctive?

The subjunctive offers speakers a polite and diplomatic way to tell someone
to do something, or stress that something is very important. It is a useful
alternative to a direct command. A mother might tell a child, "Stop eating
with your hands." How can we be polite and stress urgency at the same
time? We suggest that you use the subjunctive. Instead of the direct command,
"Stop eating with your hands," you could say, "It is important
that you eat with a fork."

Imagine you are a supervisor. You want your employee to stop being late for
work. You could say, "Come to work on time." But a more polite way
would be to use the subjunctive: "It is very important that you come to
work on time" or "It is essential that you manage your time more
efficiently." In most situations, the speaker using the subjunctive has
power over the listener. In our examples, the mother has power over the child,
the boss has power over the employee.

Verb + that + object + simple verb

There are two common structures for the subjunctive. The first one uses a
verb followed by that, followed by the object, followed by the simple
of the verb. For example, "His father demanded that he join the
army." In this example, demanded is the verb, that marks the
beginning of the noun clause, he is the object, and join is the
subjunctive verb. That is optional. You could also say, "His father
demanded he join the army." The most common verbs that are followed by the
subjunctive are advise, ask, propose, suggest, request, and insist.

Listen for the subjunctive in this conversation between cartoon characters
Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. In this scene, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck come across
Elmer Fudd, a hunter who is looking for rabbits.

Bugs Bunny: Would you like
to shoot me now or wait till you get home?

Daffy Duck: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!

Bugs Bunny: You keep out of this. He doesn't have to shoot you now.

Daffy Duck: He does so have to shoot me now. I demand that you shoot me now.


The subjunctive sentence in the dialog is, "I demand that you shoot me
now." Daffy Duck meant to say, "I demand that you shoot him now"
him referring to Bugs Bunny. Listen again.

Bugs Bunny: Would you like
to shoot me now or wait till you get home?

Daffy Duck: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!

Bugs Bunny: You keep out of this. He doesn't have to shoot you now.

Daffy Duck: He does so have to shoot me now. I demand that you shoot me now.


It is + adjective + that + object + simple verb

The second form of the subjunctive uses it is followed by an adjective,
followed by that, followed by the simple form of the verb. For
example, "It is vital that he take his medicine." Remember, there is
no third person s in the subjunctive. Don't say, "It is vital that
he takes his medicine."

Fortunately, there are only a few adjectives that are used in this form of
the subjunctive. Here are some examples:

It is essential
that you bring your wallet.

It is imperative that you read the instructions.

It is important that she arrive on time.

It is necessary that she book the ticket in advance.

Politicians love to use the subjunctive because it gives a serious and
authoritative tone to what they are saying. Listen to Florida Senator Marco
Rubio using the subjunctive in a 2015 speech. At the time, he was seeking to
become the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

"And I just think it's critically important that the next president of
the United States be someone that understands the 21st
century and has ideas that will make Americaallow America to fulfill its potential."

A good way to practice the subjunctive is to listen to political speeches
in English. You are likely to hear both of the forms that we discussed today.

There are many other ways that English speakers use the subjunctive. We
covered some of them in our episodes on
conditionals and advanced conditionals. Another common use is to express wishes, as we showed in our episode on modals of certainty and

Until next time, remember: it is important that you learn the subjunctive.

For Everyday Grammar, I'm Jill Robbins.

Adam Brock wrote this story for Learning
English. George Grow was the editor.

Now it's your turn. In the comment section
below, give some advice for Learning English. Use the subjunctive in your
response. For example, "To improve your English it is
important/imperative/necessary that you"


Words in This Story

subjunctive grammatical
of or relating to the verb form that is used to express suggestions,
wishes, uncertainty, possibility, etc.

vital adj. extremely

essential adj.
extremely important and necessary

imperative adj.
very important

potential n.
a quality that something has that can be developed to make it better


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