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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

соглашаться, договариваться.

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

повреждены дождем).

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

colloquial speech.

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.

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

future tens.

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

он доктор).

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

and conditional);

Prof. G. Vorontsova;

M. Gantina and N. Vasilevskaya and others.


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