English: Always in a Mood

moody_owl_by_erikvisser-d7dtnhkDid you know that English has three moods?

Back in the fall, I talked about verb tenses. Because verbs drive our sentences (not to mention the rest of our lives), they carry a lot of responsibility. Not only do verbs change tense, but they also tell us about number and person, link other words together, and convey voice and mood. Today, we’re going to focus on mood.

The three moods in English are: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. The first two are fairly straightforward, so let’s look at them first.

Indicative

The indicative mood is used to make statements, ask questions, and express opinions and facts.

  • Frankenstein’s monster was tired.
  • His wife thought he was faking it.
  • Are you trying to get out of going to my mother’s?

Imperative

The imperative mood is used to express commands and requests. With the imperative, the pronoun you is often absent from the sentence, but is clearly implied.

  • Stop playing with your food.
  • Put the neighbor’s child down.

Pretty straightforward, right? Okay, now let’s look at the somewhat-more-complicated subjunctive.

Subjunctive

The subjunctive mood is used to express hypothetical and conditional statements. In other words, we use the subjunctive to talk about things that are not reality, but could be — or at least, we hope they could be. For example, we use it when we’re fantasizing about world domination and cupcakes (or other things, I suppose).

  • I wish I were Supreme Overlord of the Galaxy.
  • If I were Supreme Overlord of the Galaxy, I would eat chocolate cupcakes every day.

We also use the subjunctive to make suggestions, recommendations, and demands:

  • I suggested that we remove the curdled-blood soup from the menu.
  • Vlad insisted that the soup remain on the menu.
  • I demanded that the ghouls stop putting their fingers in the soup.

Even though we’re using different verbs, the underlying driver in these three examples is a wish for a certain outcome.

So there you have it — the moodiness of English. If you’d like to learn more about the subjunctive, including some of its history, here’s a good article to get you started:


Image credit: ErikVisser @ deviantART.com

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8 thoughts on “English: Always in a Mood

  1. Thank you for the information. English is my second language so it is also a mystery to me. I am wondering, what is the purpose of giving names to all these usage?

    1. That’s a great question, Mary. I think giving names to the different ways we use language makes it easier to decipher meaning, especially for people who are learning a new language. For me, it also happens to be fascinating stuff — and the names make it easier for me to talk about it. 🙂

      1. Thanks Suzanne. A good answer. It’s a system for learning. It’s late for some of us who had to pick it up along the way, but I can see what you mean. 🙂

  2. Very informative! I guess I use the subjunctive mood often but just don’t realize it! I suppose I must have learned this in school, many years ago (!) I had just about decided that the subjunctive mood was merely a torture device for those learning French! 😉

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