Subjunctive mood

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood found in many languages. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred; the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language. The subjunctive is an irrealis mood (one that does not refer directly to what is necessarily real) – it is often contrasted with the indicative, which is a realis mood.

Subjunctives occur most often, although not exclusively, in subordinate clauses, particularly that-clauses. Examples of the subjunctive in English are found in the sentences "I suggest that you be careful" and "It is important that she stay by your side." (The corresponding indicative forms of the verbs in bold would be are and stays.)

Subjunctive may be denoted by the glossing abbreviation sjv or sbjv. It is sometimes referred to as the conjunctive mood, as it is mostly found in clauses introduced by a conjunction.

Indo-European languages


The Proto-Indo-European language, the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, had two closely related moods: the subjunctive and the optative. Many of its daughter languages combined or merged these moods.

In Indo-European, the subjunctive was formed by using the full ablaut grade of the root of the verb, and appending the thematic vowel *-e- or *-o- to the root stem, with the full, primary set of personal inflections. The subjunctive was the Indo-European irrealis, used for hypothetical or counterfactual situations.

The optative mood was formed with a suffix *-ieh1 or *-ih1 (with a laryngeal). The optative used the clitic set of secondary personal inflections. The optative was used to express wishes or hopes.

Among the Indo-European languages, only Albanian, Avestan, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit kept the subjunctive and the optative fully separate and parallel. However, in Sanskrit, use of the subjunctive is found only in the Vedic language of the earliest times, and the optative and imperative are comparatively less commonly used. In the later language (from c. 500 BC), the subjunctive fell out of use, with the optative or imperative being used instead, or merged with the optative as in Latin. However, the first-person forms of the subjunctive continue to be used, as they are transferred to the imperative, which formerly, like Greek, had no first person forms.

Germanic languages

In the Germanic languages, subjunctives are also usually formed from old optatives, with the present subjunctive marked with *-ai- and the past with *-ī-. In German, these have been reduced to a schwa, spelled -e. However, the past tense forms often display i-umlaut. In Old Norse, both suffixes evolved into -i-, but likewise, i-umlaut occurs in the past subjunctive, which distinguishes them.[1] Below are two tables showing the Old Norse active paradigm of the verb grafa (“to dig”):


Person Indicative Subjunctive
1st sing. gref grafa
2nd sing. grefr grafir
3rd sing. grefr grafi
1st Pl. grǫfum grafim
2nd Pl. grafið grafið
3rd Pl. grafa grafi


Person Indicative Subjunctive
1st Sing. gróf grœfa
2nd Sing. gróft grœfir
3rd Sing. gróf grœfi
1st Pl. grófum grœfim
2nd Pl. grófuð grœfið
3rd Pl. grófu grœfi


While most of the signs of the subjunctive suffix have been removed in Modern English, the change from was to were in the modern English subjunctive of to be also marks addition of a vowel sound to the subjunctive form, and as such represents an echo of the Indo-European optative marker of five thousand years ago.


Main article: English subjunctive

The subjunctive in Modern English occurs in a variety of contexts in which the form of the verb used is different from what it normally would be, given the implied time of the action. Regardless of the subject, the form of the present subjunctive verb used to express present or past desires and the like in that clauses is the bare form of the infinitive (not preceded by "to"). Hence, the present subjunctive of "to go" is "I go", "you go", "he/she/it go", "we go", "they go". For instance: "It was required that he go to the back of the line" (compared with the past indicative "Everyone knows that he went to the back of the line"); and "It is required that he go to the back of the line" (compared with the present indicative "Everyone knows that he goes to the back of the line").

The English subjunctive also occurs in counterfactual dependent clauses, using a form of the verb that in the indicative would indicate a time of action prior to the one implied by the subjunctive. It is called the past subjunctive when referring counterfactually to the present, and is called the pluperfect subjunctive when referring counterfactually to the past. It occurs in that clauses following the main-clause verb "wish" ("I wish that she were here now"; "I wish that she had been here yesterday") and in if clauses expressing a condition that does not or did not hold ("If she were here right now, ..."; "If she had been here yesterday, ...").

The terms "present subjunctive" and "past subjunctive", such as those appearing in the following table, refer to the form and not to the time of action expressed.[3]:p.270 (Not shown in the table is the pluperfect subjunctive, which uses the had-plus-past-participle construction when the counterfactual time of action is the past.)

Present indicative Present subjunctive Past indicative Past subjunctive Present negative indicative Present negative subjunctive Past negative indicative Past negative subjunctive
to own
regular verb)
I own
he/she/it owns
we/you/they own
that I own
that he/she/it own
that we/you/they own
I owned
he/she/it owned
we/you/they owned
that I owned
that he/she/it owned
that we/you/they owned
I do not own
he/she/it does not own
we/you/they do not own
that I not own
that he/she/it not own
that we/you/they not own
I did not own
he/she/it did not own
we/you/they did not own
that I did not own
that he/she/it did not own
that we/you/they did not own
to be I am
he/she/it is
we/you/they are
that I be
that he/she/it be
that we/you/they be
I was
he/she/it was
we/you/they were
that I were
that he/she/it were
that we/you/they were
I am not
he/she/it is not
we/you/they are not
that I not be
that he/she/it not be
that we/you/they not be
I was not
he/she/it was not
we/you/they were not
that I were not
that he/she/it were not
that we/you/they were not
Time of action present or future present or future past present or future present or future present or future past present or future
Usage desire in that clauses counterfactuality in wish or if clauses desire in that clauses counterfactuality in wish or if clauses

As shown in the above table, the form of the subjunctive is distinguishable from the indicative in five circumstances:

  1. in the third-person singular of any verb in the present form;
  2. in all instances of the verb "be" in the present form;
  3. in the first and third persons singular of the verb "be" in the past form;
  4. in all instances of all verbs in the present negative form.
  5. in the first and third persons singular of the verb "be" in the past negative form.

However, even when the subjunctive and indicative forms are identical, their time references are usually different.

The verb "to be" is so distinguishable because its forms in Modern English derive from three different Old English verbs: beon (be, being, been), wesan (was, is, wast), and wæron (am, art, are, were, wert).

Some modal auxiliaries have a past subjunctive form. For example, the indicative will as in He will come tomorrow has the subjunctive form would as in I wish that he would come tomorrow. Likewise, the indicative can as in He can do it now has the subjunctive form could as in I wish that he could do it now. And the indicative shall as in I shall go there has the subjunctive form should as in If I should go there, ....

In Early Modern English, the past subjunctive was distinguishable from the past indicative not only in the verb to be (as in Modern English) but also in the second-person singular of all verbs. For example: indicative thou sattest, but subjunctive thou sat. Nevertheless, in some texts in which the pronoun thou is used, a final -est or -st is sometimes added; for example, thou beest appears frequently in the work of Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries.


German has two forms of the subjunctive mood, namely Konjunktiv I (KI) 'present subjunctive' and Konjunktiv II (KII) 'past subjunctive'. Despite their English names, both German subjunctives can be used for past and present time.

Konjunktiv I

The KI expresses indirect (reported) speech. For example: Er sagte mir, er sei nicht bereit. 'He told me he was not ready.' His claim may be true or it may not.

If a speaker doubts a statement, Konjunktiv II may be used. For example, instead of the normal: Es wurde gesagt, er habe keine Zeit für so etwas 'It was said that he had no time for this kind of thing.' with present subjunctive 'habe', one could use past subjunctive 'hätte': Es wurde gesagt, er hätte keine Zeit für so etwas.

The KI for regular verbs in German is formed by adding -e, -est, -e, -en, -et, -en to the stem. The verb sein 'to be' has the stem sei- for the KI form. While the use of Konjunktiv I for reported speech is formal and common in newspaper articles, its use in colloquial speech is in continual decline.

It is possible to express the KI in various tenses, including the perfect (er sei da gewesen 'he has [apparently] been there') and the future (er werde da sein 'he will be there'). For the preterite, which forms the Konjunktiv II with a somewhat other meaning, indirect speech has to evade into the perfect tense, so that: "Er sagte: 'Ich war da.'" becomes "Er sagte, er sei da gewesen".

Konjunktiv II

The KII is used to form the conditional tense and, on occasion, as a replacement for the Konjunktiv I when both indicative and subjunctive moods of a particular verb are indistinguishable.

Every German verb has a Konjunktiv II form, but in spoken German the conditional is most commonly formed using würde (Konjunktiv II form of werden which in here is related to the English will or would rather than the literal to become; dialect: täte, KII of tun 'to do') with an infinitive. For example: An deiner Stelle würde ich ihm nicht helfen 'I would not help him if I were you'. In the example, the Konjunktiv II form of helfen (hülfe) is unusual. However, using 'würde' instead of hätte (KII form of haben 'to have') and wäre (KII form of sein 'to be') can be perceived anywhere from awkward (in the Present Konjunktiv II) to incorrect (in the Past-Time Konjunktiv II). There is a tendency to use the forms in würde rather in main clauses as in English; in subclauses even regular forms (which sound like the indicative of the preterite and are, thus, obsolete in any other circumstances) can still be heard.

Some verbs exist for which either construction can be used, such as with finden (fände) and tun (täte). Many dictionaries consider the Konjunktiv II forms of such verbs the only proper expression in formal written German.

The KII is formed from the stem of the preterite (imperfect) form of the verb and appending the appropriate Konjunktiv I ending as appropriate, although in most regular verbs the final 'e' in the stem is dropped. In most cases, an umlaut is appended to the stem vowel if possible (i.e. if it is a, o, u or au), for example: ich warich wäre, ich brachteich brächte.

See also German grammar.


Main article: Subjunctive in Dutch

Dutch has the same subjunctive tenses as German (described above), though they are rare in contemporary speech. The same two tenses as in German are sometimes considered subjunctive mood (aanvoegende wijs) and sometimes conditional mood (voorwaardelijke wijs). In practice, potential subjunctive uses of verbs are difficult to differentiate from indicative uses. This is partly because the subjunctive mood has fallen together with the indicative mood:

Archaic and traditional phrases still contain the subjunctive mood:

Latin and the Romance languages


The Latin subjunctive has many uses, contingent upon the nature of the sentence clause:[4]

Within independent clauses:

  1. Exhortation or command
  2. Concession
  3. Wish
  4. Question of doubt
  5. Possibility or contingency

Within dependent clauses:

  1. Condition
  2. Purpose
  3. Characteristic
  4. Result
  5. Time
  6. Indirect Questions

Historically, the Latin subjunctive adopted the optative forms, while some of the original subjunctive forms went on to compose the Latin future tense, especially in the Latin third conjugation. The *-i- of the old optative manifests itself in the fact that the Latin subjunctives typically have a high vowel even when the indicative mood has a lower vowel; Latin rogamus, "we ask", makes a subjunctive rogemus, "let us ask".

Latin 1st Conjugation Present Subjunctive

Singular Plural
First-Person rogem rogemus
Second-Person roges rogetis
Third-Person roget rogent

Latin 2nd Conjugation Present Subjunctive

Singular Plural
First-Person habeam habeamus
Second-Person habeas habeatis
Third-Person habeat habeant

Latin 3rd Conjugation Present Subjunctive

Singular Plural
First-Person curram curramus
Second-Person curras curratis
Third-Person currat currant


Latin 3rdIO Conjugation Present Subjunctive

Singular Plural
First-Person excipiam excipiamus
Second-Person excipias excipiatis
Third-Person excipiat excipiant

Latin 4th Conjugation Present Subjunctive

Singular Plural
First-Person veniam veniamus
Second-Person venias veniatis
Third-Person veniat veniant

The subjunctive mood retains a highly distinct form for nearly all verbs in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian (among other Latin languages), and for a number of verbs in French. All of these languages inherit their subjunctive from Latin, where the subjunctive mood combines both forms and usages from a number of original Indo-European inflection sets (described above), including the original subjunctive and the optative mood.

In many cases, the Romance languages use the subjunctive in the same ways that English does; however, they use them in other ways as well. For example, English generally uses the auxiliary may or let to form desiderative expressions, such as "Let it snow". The Romance languages use the subjunctive for these; French, for example, would say, "Qu'il neige" and "Qu'ils vivent jusqu'à leur vieillesse". However, in the case of the first-person plural, these languages have imperative forms: "Let us go" in French is "Allons-y". In addition, the Romance languages tend to use the subjunctive in various kinds of subordinate clauses, such as those introduced by words meaning although English: "Although I am old, I feel young"; French: Bien que je sois vieux, je me sens jeune.

In Spanish, phrases with words like lo que (that which, what), quien (who), or donde (where) and subjunctive verb forms are often translated to English with some variation of "whatever". (Spanish: "lo que sea", English: "whatever", "anything"; Spanish: "donde sea", English: "wherever"; Spanish: "quien sea", English: "whoever"; Spanish: "lo que quieras", English: "whatever you may want"; Spanish: "cueste lo que cueste", English: "whatever it may cost".)


Main article: French verbs

In French, despite the deep phonetic changes that the language has undergone from the original Latin, which include the loss of many inflections in the spoken language, the subjunctive (le subjonctif) remains prominent, largely because the subjunctive forms of many common verbs are strongly marked phonetically. Compare the indicative je sais (I know) and its subjunctive counterpart que je sache ([so] that I know).

The subjunctive is used mostly with verbs or adverbs expressing desire, doubt or eventuality; it may also express an order. It is almost always preceded by the conjunction que (that).

Use of the subjunctive is in many respects similar to English:

But sometimes it is not:

French also has an imperfect subjunctive, which in older, formal, or literary writing, replaces the present subjunctive in a subordinate clause when the main clause is in a past tense:

English French
modern spoken older, formal, or literary
It was necessary that he speak Il était nécessaire qu’il parle Il était nécessaire qu’il parlât
present subjunctive imperfect subjunctive


The Italian subjunctive (il congiuntivo) is similar to the French subjunctive in formation and use, but is decisively more common.

The subjunctive is used mainly in subordinate clauses following a set phrase or conjunction, such as benché, senza che, prima che, or perché for example. It is also used with verbs of doubt, possibility and expressing an opinion or desire, for example with credo che, è possibile che, and ritengo che, and with superlatives and virtual superlatives.

One difference between the French subjunctive and the Italian is that Italian uses the subjunctive after expressions like "Penso che" ("I think that"), where French would use the indicative. However, French does use the subjunctive after the expression "Je ne pense pas que" ("I don't think that"), and in questions like "Penses-tu que" ("Do you think that").

Present subjunctive

The present subjunctive is similar to, but still mostly distinguishable from, the present indicative. Subject pronouns are often used with the present subjunctive where they are normally omitted in the indicative, since in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person singular forms are the same, so the person is not implicitly implied from the verb. Irregular verbs tend to follow the 1st person singular form, such as the present subjunctive forms of andare, which goes to vada etc. (1st person sing form is vado).

The present subjunctive is used in a range of situations in clauses taking the subjunctive.

The present subjunctive is used mostly in subordinate clauses, as in the examples above. However, exceptions include imperatives using the subjunctive (using the 3rd person), and general statements of desire.

Imperfect subjunctive

The Italian imperfect subjunctive is very similar in appearance to (but used much more in speech than) the French imperfect subjunctive, and forms are largely regular, apart from the verbs essere, dare and stare (which go to fossi, dessi and stessi etc.). However, unlike in French, where it is often replaced with the present subjunctive, the imperfect subjunctive is far more common. Verbs with a contracted infinitive, such as dire (short for dicere) revert to the longer form in the imperfect subjunctive (to give dicessi etc., for example).

The imperfect subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses taking the subjunctive where the sense of the verb requires the imperfect.

The imperfect subjunctive is used in “if” clauses, where the main clause is in the conditional tense, as in English and German.

Perfect and pluperfect subjunctives

The perfect and pluperfect subjunctives are formed much like the indicative perfect and pluperfect, except the auxiliary (either avere or essere) verb takes the present and imperfect subjunctive respectively.

They are used in subordinate clauses which require the subjunctive, where the sense of the verb requires use of the perfect or pluperfect.


The subjunctive mood (subjuntivo) is a fundamental element of Spanish. Its spoken form makes use of it to a much larger degree than other Latin languages and it is in no case homonymous to any other tense. Furthermore, it is common to find long complex sentences almost entirely in the subjunctive.

The subjunctive is used in conjunction with impersonal expressions and expressions of emotion, opinion, desire or viewpoint. More importantly, it applies to most hypothetical situations, likely or unlikely, desired or not. Normally, only certitude of (or statement of) a fact will remove the possibility of its use. Unlike French, it is also used in phrases expressing the past conditional. The negative of the imperative shares the same form with the present subjunctive.

Common introductions to the subjunctive would include the following:

Nevertheless, the subjunctive can stand alone to supplant other tenses.

For example, "I would like" can be said in the conditional Me gustaría or in the past subjunctive Quisiera, as in Quisiera (past subjunctive) que vinieras (past subjunctive), i.e. "I would like you to come."

Comfort with the subjunctive form and the degree to which a second-language speaker attempts to avoid using it is a good way to gauge his or her fluency in the language. Complex use of the subjunctive is a constant pattern of everyday speech among natives but difficult to interiorize even by relatively proficient Spanish learners (e.g. I would have liked you to come on Thursday: Me habría gustado (conditional perfect) que vinieras (past subjunctive) el jueves.

An example of the subtlety of the Spanish subjunctive is the way the tense (past, present or future) modifies the expression "be it as it may" (literally "be what it be"):

The same alterations could be made to the expression Sea como sea or "no matter how" with similar changes in meaning.

Spanish has two past subjunctive forms. They are almost identical, except that where the "first form" has -ra-, the "second form" has -se-. Both forms are usually interchangeable although the -se- form may be more common in Spain than in other Spanish-speaking areas. The -ra- forms may also be used as an alternative to the conditional in certain structures.

Present subjunctive

In Spanish, a present subjunctive form is always different from the corresponding present indicative form. For example, whereas English "that they speak" or French "qu'ils parlent" can be either indicative or subjunctive, Spanish "que hablen" is unambiguously subjunctive. (The corresponding indicative would be "que hablan".) The same is true for all verbs, regardless of their subject.

When to use:


Past (imperfect) subjunctive

Used interchangeably, the past (imperfect) subjunctive can end either in "-se" or "-ra". Both forms stem from the third-person plural (ellos, ellas, ustedes) of the preterite. For example, the verb "estar", when conjugated in the third-person plural of the preterite, becomes "estuvieron". Then, drop the "-ron" ending, and add either "-se" or "-ra". Thus, it becomes "estuviese" or "estuviera". The past subjunctive may be used with "if... then" statements with the conditional mood. Example:

Future subjunctive

In Spanish, the future subjunctive tense is now rare but still used in certain dialects of Spanish and in formal speech. It is usually reserved for literature, archaic phrases and expressions, and legal documents. (The form is similar to the imperfect subjunctive, but with a "-re" ending instead of "-ra," "-res" instead of "-ras," and so on.) Example:

Phrases expressing the subjunctive in a future period normally employ the present subjunctive. For example: "I hope that it will rain tomorrow" would simply be "Espero que llueva mañana" (where llueva is the third-person singular present subjunctive of llover, "to rain").

Pluperfect (past perfect) subjunctive

In Spanish, the pluperfect subjunctive tense is used to describe a continuing wish in the past. "Desearía que (tú) hubieras ido al cine conmigo el viernes pasado." (I wish that you had gone to the movies with me last Friday). To form this tense, first conjugate the subjunctive form of haber (in the example above, "haber" becomes "hubieras"). Then add the participle of the main verb (in this case "ir" becomes "ido").

Though the "-re" form appears to be more closely related to the imperfect subjunctive "-ra" form than the "-se" form, that is not the case. The "-se" form of the imperfect subjunctive derives from the pluperfect subjunctive of Vulgar Latin and the "-ra" from the pluperfect indicative, combining to overtake the previous pluperfect subjunctive ending. The "-re" form is more complicated, stemming (so to speak) from a fusion of the perfect subjunctive and future perfect indicative—which, though in different moods, happened to be identical in the second and third persons—before losing the perfect in the shift to future subjunctive, the same perfect nature that was the only thing the forms originally shared. So the "-ra" and "-se" forms always had a past (to be specific, pluperfect) meaning, but only the "-se" form always belonged with the subjunctive mood that the "-re" form had since its emergence.[6]


In Portuguese, the subjunctive (subjuntivo or conjuntivo) is used to talk about situations which are seen as doubtful, imaginary, hypothetical, demanded, or required. It can also express emotion, opinion, disagreement, denial, or a wish. Its value is similar to the one it has in formal English:

Present Subjunctive
Imperfect (Past) Subjunctive

As in Spanish, the imperfect subjunctive is in vernacular use, and it is employed, among other things, to make the tense of a subordinate clause agree with the tense of the main clause:

The imperfect subjunctive is also used when the main clause is in the conditional:

Note that there are authors who regard the conditional of Portuguese as a 'future in the past' of the indicative mood, rather than as a separate mood; they call it futuro do pretérito ("future of the past"), especially in Brazil.

Future Subjunctive

Portuguese differs from other Romance languages in having retained the medieval future subjunctive (futuro do subjuntivo), which is rarely used in Spanish and Galician and has been lost in other West Iberian Romance languages. It expresses a condition that must be fulfilled in the future, or is assumed to be fulfilled, before an event can happen. Spanish and English will use the present tense in this type of clause.

For example, in conditional sentences whose main clause is in the conditional, Portuguese, Spanish and English employ the past tense in the subordinate clause. Nevertheless, if the main clause is in the future, Portuguese will employ the future subjunctive where English and Spanish use the present indicative. (Note that English, when being used in a rigorously formal style, takes the present subjunctive in these situation, example: If I be, then...) Contrast the following two sentences.

The first situation is counterfactual; the listener knows that the speaker is not a king. However, the second statement expresses a promise about the future; the speaker may yet be elected president.

For a different example, a father speaking to his son might say:

The future subjunctive is identical in form to the personal infinitive in regular verbs, but they differ in some irregular verbs of frequent use. However, the possible differences between the two tenses are due only to stem changes. They always have the same endings.[7]

It is important to see how the meaning of sentences can change by switching subjunctive and indicative:

Below, there is a table demonstrating subjunctive and conditional conjugation for regular verbs of the first paradigm (-ar), exemplified by falar (to speak) .

Grammatical Person Past Subjunctive Present Subjunctive Future Subjunctive Conditional (Future of Past)
Eufalasse fale falar falaria
Tu falasses fales falares falarias
Ele/Ela falasse fale falar falaria
Nós falássemos falemos falarmos falaríamos
Vós falásseis faleis falardes falaríeis
Eles/Elas falassem falem falarem falariam
Compound Subjunctives

Compound verbs in subjunctive are necessary in more complex sentences, such as subordinate clauses with embedded perfective tenses e.g., perfective state in the future. To form compound subjunctives auxiliar verbs (ter or haver) must conjugate to the respective subjunctive tense, while the main verbs must take their participles.

Grammatical Person Past Subjunctive Present Subjunctive Future Subjunctive Conditional
Eutivesse/houvesse falado tenha/haja falado tiver/houver falado teria/haveria falado
Tutivesses/houvesses falado tenhas/hajas falado tiveres/houveres falado terias/haverias falado
Ele/Elativesse/houvesse falado tenha/haja falado tiver/houver falado teria/haveria falado
Nóstivéssemos/houvéssemos falado tenhamos/hajamos falado tivermos/houvermos falado teríamos/haveríamos falado
Vóstivésseis/houvésseis falado tenhais/hajais falado tiverdes/houverdes falado teríeis/haveríeis falado
Eles/Elastivessem/houvessem falado tenham/hajam falado tivermos/houvermos falado teriam/haveriam falado


Main article: Romanian verbs

Romanian is part of the Balkan Sprachbund and as such uses the subjunctive (conjunctivul) more extensively than other Romance languages. The subjunctive forms always include the conjunction , which within these verbal forms plays the role of a morphological structural element. The subjunctive has two tenses: the past tense and the present tense.

Present subjunctive

The present subjunctive of the regular verbs is formed by adding specific endings to the stem of the infinitive (e.g. El vrea să cânte, he wants to sing). The actual verbal form is preceded by the conjunction . The present tense is by far the most widely used of the two subjunctive tenses and is used frequently after verbs that express wish, preference, permission, possibility, request, advice, etc.: a vrea to want, a dori to wish, a prefera to prefer, a lăsa to let, to allow, a ruga to ask, a sfătui to advise, a sugera to suggest, a recomanda to recommend, a cere to demand, to ask for, a interzice to forbid, a permite to allow, to give permission, a se teme to be afraid, etc.

When used independently, the subjunctive indicates a desire, a fear, an order or a request, i.e. has modal and imperative values. The present subjunctive is used in questions having the modal value of should:

The present subjunctive is often used as an imperative, mainly for other persons than the second person. When used with the second person, it is even stronger than the imperative. The first-person plural can be preceded by the interjection hai, which intensifies the imperative meaning of the structure:

The subjunctive present is used in certain set phrases used as greetings in specific situations:

Past subjunctive

The past tense of the subjunctive mood has one form for all persons and numbers of all the verbs, which is să fi followed by the past participle of the verb. The past subjunctive is used after the past optative-conditional of the verbs that require the subjunctive (a trebui, a vrea, a putea, a fi bine, a fi necesar, etc.), in constructions that express the necessity, the desire in the past:

When used independently, the past subjunctive indicates a regret related to a past-accomplished action that is seen as undesirable at the moment of speaking:

Celtic languages


In Welsh, there are two forms of the subjunctive: present and imperfect. The present subjunctive is barely ever used in spoken Welsh except in certain fixed phrases, and is restricted in most cases to the third person singular. However, it is more likely to be found in literary Welsh, most widely in more old-fashioned registers. The third-person singular is properly used after certain conjunctions and prepositions but in spoken Welsh the present subjunctive is frequently replaced by either the infinitives, the present tense, the conditional, or the future tense (this latter is called the present-future by some grammarians).

Present indicative- 'to be' Present indicative- 'bod' Present subjunctive- 'to be' Present subjunctive- 'bod'
I am (Ry)dw i/... ydw i (that) I be bwyf, byddwyf
Thou art Rwyt ti/... wyt ti (that) thou be[est] bych, byddych
He is Mae e/... ydy e (that) he be bo, byddo
One is Ydys (that) one be bydder
We are (Ry)dyn ni/...dyn ni (that) we be bôm, byddom
You are (Ry)dych chi/...dych chi (that) you be boch, byddoch
They are Maen nhw/...dyn nhw (that) they be bônt, byddont
Literary English Literary Welsh Spoken English Spoken Welsh
When need be Pan fo angen When there will be need Pan fydd angen
Before it be Cyn (y) bo Before it is Cyn iddi fod
In order that there be Fel y bo In order for there to be Er mwyn bod
She left so that she be safe Gadawodd hi fel y bo hi'n ddiogel She left so that she might be safe Gadawodd hi fel y byddai hi'n ddiogel
It is time that I go Mae'n amser yr elwyf It is time for me to go Mae'n amser imi fynd

The imperfect subjunctive, like English, only makes an effect on the verb bod- 'to be' and it is used after pe = 'if' and it must be accompanied with the conditional subjunctive e.g. Pe bawn i'n gyfoethog, teithiwn i trwy'r byd = If I were rich, I would travel throughout the world.

Imperfect indicative- 'to be' Imperfect indicative- 'bod' Conditional subjunctive- 'to be' Conditional subjunctive- 'bod' Imperfect subjunctive- 'to be' Imperfect subjunctive- 'bod'
I was yr oeddwn i I would be byddwn i (that) I were bawn i
Thou wast yr oeddet ti Thou wouldst be byddet ti (that) thou wert baet ti
He was yr oedd e He would be byddai fe (that) he were bai fe
One was yr oeddid One would be byddid (that) one were byddid
We were yr oeddem ni We would be byddem ni (that) we were baem ni
You were yr oeddech chi You would be byddech chi (that) you were baech chi
They were yr oedden nhw They would be bydden nhw (that) they were baent hwy

For all other verbs in Welsh as in English, the imperfect subjunctive takes the same stems as do the conditional subjunctive and the imperfect indicative.

Scottish Gaelic

In Scottish Gaelic, the subjunctive does not exist but still takes the forms from the indicative: the present subjunctive takes the future indicative and the imperfect subjunctive takes the imperfect indicative. The subjunctive is normally used in proverbs or truisms in phrases that start with 'May...' For example,

Or when used as the conjunction, the subjunctive is used, like every other language, in a more demanding or wishful statement:

The subjunctive in Gaelic always will sometimes have the conjunction gun (or gum before words beginning with b, f, m or p) can be translated as 'that' or as 'May...' while making a wish. For negatives, nach is used instead.

Present indicative- 'to be' Present indicative- 'bi' Present subjunctive- 'to be' Present subjunctive- 'bi'
I am Tha mi/ Is mise (that) I be (gum) bi mi
Thou art Tha thu/ Is tusa (that) thou be[est] (gum) bi thu
He is Tha e/ Is e (that) he be (gum) bi e
One is Thathar (that) one be (gum) bithear
We are Tha sinn/ Is sinne (that) we be (gum) bi sinn
You are Tha sibh/ Is sibhsan (that) you be (gum) bi iad
They are Tha iad/ Is iadsan (that) they be (gum) bi iad

In Scottish Gaelic, the imperfect subjunctive is exactly the same as the indicative only that it uses 'robh' in both the affirmative and negative forms, as the interrogative does not exist in any subjunctive form in any language, of 'bi'- 'to be' although 'robh' is taken from the interrogative form in the imperfect indicative of 'bi'.

Imperfect indicative- 'to be' Imperfect indicative- 'bi' Conditional subjunctive- 'to be' Conditional subjunctive- 'bi' Imperfect subjunctive- 'to be' Imperfect subjunctive- 'bi'
I was Bha mi/ B'e mise I would be Bhithinn (that) I were (gun) robh mi
Thou wast Bha tu/ B'e thusa Thou wouldst be Bhiodh tu (that) thou wert (gun) robh thu
He was Bha e/ B'e esan He would be Bhiodh e (that) he were (gun) robh e
One was Bhathar One would be Bhithear (that) one were (gun) robhar
We were Bha sinn/ B'e sinne We would be Bhiodh sinn (that) we were (gun) robh sinn
You were Bha sibh/ B'e sibhsan You would be Bhiodh sibh (that) you were (gun) robh sibh
They were Bha iad/ B'e iadsan They would be Bhiodh iad (that) they were (gun) robh iad

For every other verb in Gaelic, the same follows for the imperfect subjunctive where the interrogative or negative form of the verb is used for both the affirmative and negative form of the verb and, like Welsh, the imperfect subjunctive forms can be exactly the same as the conditional subjunctive forms apart from 'bi'.


Native speakers would tend to use the following for the second of the above examples:


In the Irish language (Gaeilge), the subjunctive, like in Scottish Gaelic (its sister language), covers the idea of wishing something and so appears in some famous Irish proverbs and blessings. It is considered an old-fashioned tense for daily speech (except in set phrases) but still appears often in print.[9]

The subjunctive is normally formed from "Go" (which eclipses, and adds "n-" to a verb beginning with a vowel), plus the subjunctive form of the verb, plus the subject, plus the thing being wished for. For instance, the subjunctive form of "téigh" (go) is "té":

Or again, the subjunctive of "tabhair" (give) is "tuga":

Or to take a third example, sometimes the wish is also a curse, like this one from Tory Island in Donegal:

The subjunctive is generally formed by taking the stem of the verb and adding on the appropriate subjunctive ending depending on broad or slender, and first or second conjugation. For example, to the stem of bog (to move) is added -a giving as its subjunctive in the first person boga mé:

First conjugation:

mol (to praise) mola mé mola tú mola sé/sí molaimid mola sibh mola siad
bris (to break) brise mé brise tú brise sé/sí brisimid brise sibh brise siad

Second conjugation:

beannaigh (to bless) beannaí mé beannaí tú beannaí sé/sí beannaímid beannaí sibh beannaí siad
bailigh (to collect) bailí mé bailí tú bailí sé/sí bailímid bailí sibh bailí siad

E.g. "go mbeannaí Dia thú" – May God bless you.

There is also some irregularity in certain verbs in the subjunctive. The verb (to be) is the most irregular verb in Irish (as in most Indo-European languages):

Present indicative tá mé/táim tá tú tá sé/sí tá muid/táimid tá sibh tá siad
Present subjunctive raibh mé raibh tú raibh sé/sí rabhaimid raibh sibh raibh siad

The Irish phrase for "thank you" – go raibh maith agat – uses the subjunctive of "bí" and literally means "may there be good at-you".

Some verbs don't follow the conjugation of the subjunctive exactly as conjugated above. These irregularities apply to verbs whose stem ends already in a stressed vowel and thus due to the rules of Irish orthography and pronunciation, can't take another. For example:

Present indicative Present subjunctive
téigh (to go) téann tú té tú
sáigh (to stab) sánn tú sá tú
luigh (to lie down) luíonn tú luí tú
*feoigh (to decay; wither) feonn tú feo tú

Where the subjunctive is used in English, it may not be used in Irish and another tense might be used instead. For example:

Slavic languages

The subjunctive mood is recognized in certain Slavic languages,[11][12] although there is no consistent terminology. For example, some authors do not distinguish the subjunctive mood from the optative ("wishing") mood,[13] others do.[14]


The subjunctive mood is formed using the by particle, either alone or forming a single word with the complex conjunctions żeby, iżby, ażeby, aby, coby.[14][15] The mood does not have its own morphology, but instead a rule that the by-containing particle must be placed in front of the dependent clause.[11] Compare:

The subjunctive mood in the dependent clause is obligatory in the case of certain independent clauses, for example it is incorrect to say chcę, że to zrobi, but the subjunctive mood must be used instead: chcę, by to zrobił.

The subjunctive can never be mistaken with the conditional,[11] despite that in the case of the conditional mood the clitic by and derivatives can move. See that in the following examples

there is no conjunction, which would indicate the subjunctive. In particular, there is no żeby.

Compare to the closely related optative mood, e.g. the subjunctive nie nalegam, by wysłał list vs the optative oby wysłał list.

Semitic languages


In Standard/Literary Arabic, the verb in its imperfective aspect (al-muḍāri‘) has a subjunctive form called the manṣūb form (منصوب). It is distinct from the imperfect indicative in most of its forms: where the indicative has "-u", the subjunctive has "-a"; and where the indicative has "-na" or "-ni", the subjunctive has nothing at all. (The "-na" ending in the second and third-person plural feminine is different: it marks the gender and number, not the mood, and therefore it is there in both the indicative and subjunctive.)

The subjunctive is used in that-clauses, after Arabic an: urīdu an aktuba "I want to write." However, in conditional and precative sentences, such as "if he goes" or "let him go", a different mood of the imperfective aspect, the jussive, majzūm, is used.

In many spoken Arabic dialects, there remains a distinction between indicative and subjunctive; however, it is not through a suffix but rather a prefix.

In Levantine Arabic, the indicative has b- while the subjunctive lacks it:

Egyptian Arabic uses a simple construction that precedes the conjugated verbs with (law "if") or (momken "may"); the following are some examples:


Final short vowels were elided in Hebrew in prehistoric times, so that the distinction between the Proto-Semitic indicative, subjunctive and jussive (similar to Classical Arabic forms) had largely been lost even in Biblical Hebrew. The distinction does remain for some verbal categories, where the original final morphemes effected lasting secondary changes in word-internal syllabic structure and vowel length. These include weak roots with a medial or final vowel, such as yaqūm "he rises / will rise" versus yaqom "may he rise" and yihye "he will be" versus yehi "may he be", imperfect forms of the hiphil stem, and also generally for first person imperfect forms: אֵשֵׁב (imperfect indicative of 'sit') vs. אֵשְׁבָה (imperfect cohortative=volitive of 'sit'). In modern Hebrew, the situation has been carried even further, with forms like yaqom and yehi becoming non-productive; instead, the future tense (prefix conjugation) is used for the subjunctive, often with the particle she- added to introduce the clause, if it is not already present (similar to French que).

Biblical subjunctive forms survive in non-productive phrases in such forms as the third-person singular of to be (להיות — lihyot, יהי/תהי or יהא/תהא) and to live (לחיות — likhyot, יחי/תחי), mostly in a literary register:


Subordinate clauses in Babylonian and Standard Babylonian Akkadian are marked with a -u on verbs ending in a consonant, and with nothing after vocalic endings or after ventive endings. Due to the consonantal structure of semitic languages, and Akkadian sound laws, the addition of the -u might trigger short vowels in the middle of the word to disappear. Assyrian Akkadian uses a more complicated system with both -u and -ni as markers of subordination. The ending -ni was used in the instances where -u could not be used as stated above. During Middle and Neo Assyrian the -ni ending became compulsory on all subordinate verbs, even those that already had the -u, resulting in -ni and-ūni as markers of subordination.[16]

Uralic languages


This mood in Hungarian is generally used to express polite demands and suggestions. The endings are identical between imperative, conjunctive and subjunctive; it is therefore often called the conjunctive-imperative mood.


Note that "demand" is nowhere near as rude as it might come across in English. It is a polite but firm request, but not as polite as, say, "would you...".

The characteristic letter in its ending is -j-, and in the definite conjunctive conjugation the endings appear very similar to those of singular possession, with a leading letter -j-.

An unusual feature of the mood's endings is that there exist a short and a long form for the second person singular (i.e. "you"). The formation of this for regular verbs differs between the indefinite and definite: the indefinite requires just the addition of -j, which differs from the longer ending in that the last two sounds are omitted (-j and not -jél for example in menj above, cf. menjél). The short version of the definite form also drops two letters, but another two. It drops, for example: the -ja- in -jad, leaving just -d, as can be seen in add above (instead of adjad).

There are several groups of exceptions involving verbs that end in -t. The rules for how this letter, and a preceding letter, should change when the subjunctive endings are applied are quite complicated, see the article Hungarian verbs. As usual, gemination of a final sibilant consonant is demonstrated when a j-initial ending is applied:

mos + -jak gives mossak 'let me wash' (-j- changes to -s-)

When referring to the demands of others, the subjunctive is demonstrated:

kérte, hogy menjek. 'He asked that I go. (He asked me to go.)' Here, "I go" is in the subjunctive.

See also


  1. An Icelandic-English Dictionary, Cleasby-Vigfússon, Outlines of Grammar; Gen. Remarks on the Strong & Irreg. Verbs; Note γ
  2. "Languages: Icelandic: grafa." Verbix. N.p., 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2010. <>.
  3. "Mood and Modality", by Ilse Depraetere and Susan Reed, ch. 12, pp. 270-290 in The Handbook of English Linguistics, edited by Bas Aarts, April McMahon. 2006, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  4. Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar, §438. Dover Publications, 2006. Print.
  5. "Languages: Latin: curro." Verbix. N.p., 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2010. <>.
  6. Wright, Leavitt O. (1931). "The Disappearing Spanish Verb Form in -re". Hispania. American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. 14 (2): 107–114. doi:10.2307/332496. ISSN 0018-2133. JSTOR 332496. OCLC 5552696109. (subscription required (help)).
  7. More on the subjunctive in Portuguese can be found on Wikibooks.
  8. Romanian Grammar detailed guide of Romanian grammar and usage.
  11. 1 2 3 Anastasia Smirnova, Vedrana Mihaliček, Lauren Ressue, Formal Studies in Slavic Linguistics, Cambridge Scholar Publishing, Newcastle upon Type, Wielka Brytania, 2010: Barbara Tomaszewicz, Subjunctive Mood in Polish and the Clause Typing Hypothesis
  12. Kagan Olga, Semantics of Genitive Objects in Russian, Springer 2013: Subjunctive Mood and the Notion of Commitment, series Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, ISBN 978-94-007-5225-2
  13. Mędak Stanisław, Praktyczny słownik łączliwości składniowej czasowników polskich, Universitas, Kraków, Polska, 2003
  14. 1 2 Muczkowski Józef, Gramatyka języka Polskiego, Kraków 1836, pp. 228
  15. Migdalski K. The Syntax of Compound Tenses in Slavic, Utrecht 2006
  16. Huenergard, John, Grammar of Akkadian Third Edition, Eisenbrauns 2011

External links

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