Subjunctive (or conditional) mood

The following examples of sentences may also be regarded as sentences of unreal conditions for the present and future: I wish

Subjunctive (or conditional) mood



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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.


Lets 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 sentence:

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 different.

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 respectively).
  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.

  1. The forms of Present Subjunctive of the verb to be and of other verbs are used :
  2. 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 oclock. (Желательно, чтобы он был здесь в пять часов.)

  1. 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.

  1. 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 infinitive.


The form of Past Subjunctive of the verb to be- were is used:

  1. In a subordinate part of conditional sentences of the second type:

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.)

  1. 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.)

  1. 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 работе).


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 Alices arrival (now), she would call her up. (Если бы Елена знала о прибытии Алисы, она бы ей позвонила).

(Given sentence is incredible as Helen does not know about Alices 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 опоздал).
  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 адре

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