Subjunctive mood

Subjunctive mood

In grammar, the subjunctive mood (abbreviated sjv or sbjv) is a verb mood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred.

It is sometimes referred to as the conjunctive mood, as it often follows a conjunction. The details of subjunctive use vary from language to language.


Indo-European languages


The reconstructed Proto Indo-European language is the hypothetical parent of many language families. These include the Romance languages, Celtic languages, Germanic languages (including English), Slavic languages, many of the languages of the Indian subcontinent and the Iranian or Persian languages and several others. It 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, Sanskrit, and to some extent Old Church Slavonic kept the subjunctive and optative fully separate and parallel. However, in Sanskrit, use of the subjunctive is only found in the Vedic language of the earliest times, and the optative and imperative comparatively less commonly used. In the later language (from c.500BC), 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. In German, subjunctives are typically marked with an -e ending, and often with i-umlaut, showing once more the presence of the *-i- suffix that is the mark of the old optative. In Old Norse, an -i is involved in many subjunctive constructions; grefr, "he digs", becomes grafi, "let him dig"; and an i-umlaut occurs in subjunctive derivations in the strong verbs.[1] Below are two tables showing the Old Norse active paradigm of the verb grafa, "to dig".


Person Pronoun Indicative Subjunctive
1st Sing. ek gref grafa
2nd Sing. þú grefr grafir
3rd Sing. hann/hon/þát grefr grafi
1st Pl. vér/vit grǫfum grafim
2nd Pl. þér/þit grafið grafið
3rd Pl. þeir/þær/þau grafa grafi


Person Pronoun Indicative Subjunctive
1st Sing. ek gróf grœfa
2nd Sing. þú gróft grœfir
3rd Sing. hann/hon/þát gróf grœfi
1st Pl. vér/vit grófum grœfim
2nd Pl. þér/þit grófuð grœfið
3rd Pl. þeir/þær/þau grófu grœfi


While most of the signs of the i-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.[citation needed]


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 indicative "Everyone knows that he went to the back of the line"); "It is required that he go to the back of the line" (compared with the 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, ...").

A form of the subjunctive, called the future subjunctive, is used in if clauses of doubtful possibility with future reference; regardless of person and number, it uses the form "if I were to go".

The terms "present subjunctive" and "past subjunctive", such as appear in the following table, refer to the form and not to the time of action expressed. (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 Future indicative Future subjunctive Present negative indicative Present 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 shall own
he/she/it will own
we shall own
you/they will own
if I were to own
if he/she/it were to own
if we/you/they were to own
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
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 shall be
he/she/it will be
we shall be
you/they will be
if I were to be
if he/she/it were to be
if we/you/they were to be
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
Time of action present or future past, present or future past present future future present or future past, present or future
Usage desire in that clauses counterfactuality in if clauses or in that clauses after wish doubtful possibility in if clauses desire in that 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 future form; and
  5. in all instances of all verbs in the present 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 waeron (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 in the past and present tenses.

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 I may be used. For example: Es wurde gesagt, er habe keine Zeit für so (et)was. ' It is said that he has no time for this kind of thing.' Present subjunctive 'habe' replaces the present indicative 'hat.'
However, the use of Konjunktiv forms does not always strictly follow the principles as Konjunktiv I sounds rather formal and may be replaced by Konjunktiv II. The example above would then become: Es wurde gesagt, er hätte keine Zeit für so (et)was.

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 '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 Konjunkiv 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.


Dutch has the same subjunctive tenses as German (described above), but nowadays they are almost never used. The same two tenses as in German are sometimes considered subjunctive and sometimes conditional. In practice, potential subjunctive uses of verbs are difficult to differentiate from indicative uses, because:

  • only the singular subjunctive present differs from the present indicative: e.g., the subjunctive "God zegene je, mijn kind" (May God bless you, my child) differs from the indicative "God zegent je, mijn kind" (God blesses you, my child.)
  • only the singular subjunctive past of strong verbs differs from the past indicative: e.g., the subjunctive "hadde", "ware" and "mochte" differ from the indicative "had", "was" and "mocht" ('had', 'was' and 'might').

Meaning that:

  • the plural of subjunctive present is identical to the plural of the indicative present - there are a few exceptions where the usage is clearly subjunctive, like: "Mogen zij in vrede rusten" (May they rest in peace.)
  • the singular and plural of the subjunctive past of weak verbes is identical to respectively the singular and plural of the indicative past
  • the plural of the subjunctive past of strong verbs is identical to the plural of the indicative past

There are many fixed or nearly fixed sentences in the subjunctive mood that are still used in Dutch; some examples:

  • Leve de koningin! (Long live the Queen!)
  • Men neme ... (One takes ... - as found in recipes)
  • Uw naam worde geheiligd. (Hallowed be Thy name (Lord's Prayer).)
  • Zo waarlijk helpe mij God almachtig. (So help me God (when swearing an oath).)
  • Het zij zo. (So be it.)
  • God zegene u. (God bless you.)
  • De HERE zegene u en behoede u; de HERE doe Zijn aangezicht over u lichten en zij u genadig; de HERE verheffe Zijn aangezicht over u en geve u vrede. (May the LORD bless you, and keep you; May the LORD make his face shine to upon you, and be gracious to you; May the LORD turn his countenance to you and grant you peace (Priestly Blessing).)

The above sentences are all in the present tense. The use of the past tense subjunctive mood - like "hadde" from "hebben" (to have) and "mochte" from "mogen" (may) - is almost completely limited to law texts and poetry. Zijn (to be) is the sole exception: it is used frequently to indicate unreality, something that did not happen. It translates with the English past subjunctive 'were':

  • Hij ware gekomen, als u hem geen pijn had gedaan. (He 'would have' come, if you had not hurt him.)
  • De graaf sprak over de diefstal van honderd goudstukken als ware het een kleinigheid. (The count spoke about the theft of a hundred gold coins as if it 'were' a small thing.)

Latin and the Romance languages

The Latin subjunctive is mostly made of optative forms, while some of the original subjunctive forms went to make the Latin future tense, especially in the Latin third conjugation. In Latin, 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".)


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. (However, the present indicatives and present subjunctives of most verbs are homonyms when they have singular subjects: je parle [I speak] is both the present indicative and the present subjunctive.)

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

  • Jussive: Il faut qu'il comprenne ça.: "It is necessary that he understand this."
  • Desiderative: Vive la reine !: "Long live the queen!"

But sometimes it is not:

  • Desiderative: Que la lumière soit !: "Let there be light!"
  • In certain, subordinate clauses:
    • Bien que ce soit mon anniversaire... "Even though it is my birthday..."
    • Avant que je ne m'en aille... "Before I go away..."

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: It was necessary that he speak (present subjunctive).
  • Everyday modern French: Il était nécessaire qu'il parle (present subjunctive).
  • Older, formal, or literary French: Il était nécessaire qu'il parlât (imperfect subjunctive).

Also in older, formal, or literary writing, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctives double as a "second form" of the conditional and conditional perfect, in which case they are used in both the protasis and the apodosis. It should be noted, however, that many modern-day grammarians reject the use of the term "second form of the conditional perfect" (which they believe leads only to confusion), preferring instead that the subjunctive mood be called simply the subjunctive mood:

  • English: Had we known (pluperfect subjunctive), we could have prevented (conditional perfect) it.
  • Everyday modern French: Si on l'avait su (pluperfect indicative), on aurait pu (conditional perfect) l'empêcher.
  • Older, formal, or literary French: L'eussions-nous su (pluperfect subjunctive / conditional perfect, second form), nous l'eussions pu (pluperfect subjunctive / conditional perfect, second form) empêcher.


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

  • English: The most beautiful girl I know.
  • Italian: La ragazza più bella che io conosca.

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.

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 spelt 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.

  • English: "It is possible that they might have to leave".
  • Italian: "È possibile che debbano partire".
  • English: "My parents want me to play the piano".
  • Italian: "I miei genitori vogliono che io suoni il pianoforte".

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.

  • English: "Be careful!"
  • Italian: "Stia attento!"
  • English: "Long live the republic!"
  • Italian: "Viva la repubblica!"
Imperfect subjunctive

The Italian imperfect subjunctive is very similar in appearance to 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.

  • English: "It seemed that Elsa was not coming."
  • Italian: "Sembrava che Elsa non venisse."
  • English: "The teacher slowed down, so that we would understand everything."
  • Italian: "“L’insegnante rallentava, affinché capissimo tutti."

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

  • English: "If I had a lot of money, I would buy many cars."
  • Italian: "Se avessi molti soldi, comprerei tante macchine."
  • English: "You would know if we were lying."
  • Italian: "Sapresti se mentissimo."
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.

  • English: "Although they had not killed the doctor, the police arrested the men."
  • Italian: "Benché non avessero ucciso il medico, la polizia arrestò gli uomini."
  • English: "I would have done it, provided you had helped me."
  • Italian: "Lo avrei fatto, purché tu mi avessi assistito."


In Spanish, the subjunctive (subjuntivo) is used in conjunction with impersonal expressions and expressions of emotion, opinion, or viewpoint. It is also used to describe situations that are considered unlikely or are in doubt, as well as for expressing disagreement, volition, or denial.

Many common expressions introduce subjunctive clauses. Examples include:

  • Es una pena que... "It is a shame that..."
  • Quiero que... "I want..."
  • Ojalá... "I hope..." (literally: "God willing", but due to the Arabic origin most Spaniards do not know that it means this)
  • Es importante que... "It is important that..."
  • Me alegro de que... "I am happy that..."
  • Es bueno que... "It is good that..."
  • Es necesario que... "It is necessary that..."
  • Dudo que... "I doubt that..."

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.

The 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:

  • When there are two clauses, separated by que. However, not all "que" clauses require the subjunctive mood. They must have at least one of the following criteria.
  • As the fourth edition of Mosaicos states, when the verb of the main clause expresses emotion. (E.g. fear, happiness, sorrow, etc.)
  • Impersonal expressions are used in the main clause. (It's important that...)
  • The verb in the second clause is the one that is in subjunctive!


  • Ojalá me compren (comprar) un regalo. (I hope that they will buy me a gift.)
  • Te recomiendo que no corras (correr) con tijeras. (I recommend that you not run with scissors.)
  • Dudo que el restaurante abra (abrir) a las seis. (I doubt that the restaurant might open at six.)
  • Lo discutiremos cuando venga (venir). (We will talk about it when he/she comes.)
  • Es importante que nosotros hagamos ejercicio. (It is important that we exercise.)
  • Me alegro de que tú seas mi amiga. (I am happy that you are my friend.)
The 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, with the verb "estar", when conjugated in the third person plural of the preterite, it 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:

  • Si yo fuera el maestro, no mandaría demasiados deberes. (If I were the teacher, I would not give too much homework.)
The future subjunctive

In Spanish, the future subjunctive tense is now all but extinct. It is seldom heard in everyday speech, and 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:

  • Si así no lo hiciere, Dios y la patria me lo demanden. (If I don't do it, may God and the fatherland demand it from me.)

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"). The future subjunctive form of the verb would have been "lloviere".

The pluperfect (past perfect) subjunctive

In Spanish, the pluperfect subjunctive tense is used to describe a continuing wish in the past. "Deseo 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 in this mood, change the word haber to the subjunctive form and conjugate it, in this last example, we changed "haber" to "hubieras"; then add the participle form of the main verb (in this case ir, changing to "ido").

  • Yo espero que hubieras ido, pero él fracasó su examen de aritmética. (I hope that you had gone, but he failed his math test.)

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.[4]


In Portuguese, the subjunctive (subjuntivo (Brazil) or conjuntivo (Portugal)) 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:

  • Command: Faça-se luz! "Let there be light!"
  • Wish: Viva o rei! "Long live the king!"
  • Necessity: É importante que ele compreenda isso. "It is important that he understand that."
  • In certain, subordinate clauses:
    • Ainda que seja meu aniversário... "Even though it be my birthday..."
    • Antes que eu vá... "Before I go..."

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:

  • English: It is [present indicative] necessary that he speak [present subjunctive]. → It was [past indicative] necessary that he speak [present subjunctive].
  • Portuguese: É [present indicative] necessário que ele fale [present subjunctive]. → Era necessário [past (imperfect) indicative] que ele falasse [past (imperfect) subjunctive].

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

  • English: It would be [conditional] necessary that he speak [present subjunctive].
  • Portuguese: Seria [conditional] necessário que ele falasse [imperfect subjunctive].

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.

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.

  • English: If I were [past subjunctive] king, I would end [conditional] hunger.
    • Spanish: Si fuera [imperfect subjunctive] rey, acabaría con [conditional] el hambre.
    • Portuguese: Se fosse [imperfect subjunctive] rei, acabaria com [conditional] a fome.
  • English: If I am [present indicative] [technical English is "if I be" present subjunctive] elected president, I will change [future indicative] the law.
    • Spanish: Si soy [present indicative] elegido presidente, cambiaré [future indicative] la ley.
    • Portuguese: Se for [future subjunctive] eleito presidente, mudarei [future indicative] a lei.

The first situation is counterfactual; we know 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:

  • English: When you are [present indicative] older, you will understand [future indicative].
  • Spanish: Cuando seas [present subjunctive] mayor, comprenderás [future indicative].
  • French: Quand tu seras [future indicative] grand, tu comprendras [future indicative].
  • Portuguese: Quando fores [future subjunctive] mais velho, compreenderás [future indicative].

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.[5]

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

  • Ele pensou que eu fosse alto (He thought that I was tall [and I am not])
  • Ele pensou que eu era alto (He thought that I was tall [and I am or I am not sure whether I am or not])
  • Se formos(If we go there)
  • Se vamos(Every time we go there)


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:

  • Să plec? Should I leave?
  • Să mai stau? Should I stay longer?
  • De ce să plece? Why should he/she leave?

The present subjunctive is often used as an imperative, mainly for other persons than the 2nd person. When used with the 2nd person, it is even stronger than the imperative. The 1st person plural can be preceded by the interjection hai, which intensifies the imperative meaning of the structure:

  • Să mergem! Let us go! or Hai să mergem! Come on, let's go!
  • Să plece imediat! I want him to leave immediately!
  • Să-mi aduci un pahar de apă! Bring me a glass of water!

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

  • Să creşti mare! (to a child, after he / she declared his / her age or thanked for something)
  • Să ne (să-ţi, să vă) fie de bine! (to people who have finished their meals)
  • Să-l (să o, să le etc.) porţi sănătos / sănătoasă! (when somebody shows up in new clothes, with new shoes)
  • Dumnezeu să-l (s-o, să-i, să le) ierte! (after mentioning the name of a person who died recently)
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:

  • Ar fi trebuit să fi rămas acasă. You should have stayed home.
  • Ar fi fost mai bine să mai fi stat. It would have been better if we had stayed longer.

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:

  • Să fi rămas acasă We should have stayed at home. (Note: the same construction can be used for all persons and numbers)[6]

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
Thou art Rwyt ti/... wyt ti (that) thou be[est] bych
He is Mae e/... ydy e (that) he be bo
One is Ydys (that) one be bydder
We are (Ry)dyn ni/...dyn ni (that) we be bôm
You are (Ry)dych chi/...dych chi (that) you be boch
They are Maen nhw/...dyn nhw (that) they be bônt
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 Er mwyn y bo...yna In order for there to be Er mwyn bod...yna
She left so that she be safe Gadawodd hi fel y bo hi'n ddiogel She left so then she might be safe Gadawodd hi fel efallai 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 i fi 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 Roeddwn i I would be Byddwn i (that) I were bawn i
Thou wast Roeddet ti Thou wouldst be Byddet ti (that) thou wert baet ti
He was Roedd e He would be Byddai fe (that) he were bai fe
One was Roeddid One would be Byddid (that) one were baid
We were Roedden ni We would be Bydden ni (that) we were baen ni
You were Roeddech chi You would be Byddech chi (that) you were baech chi
They were Roedden nhw They would be Bydden nhw (that) they were baen nhw

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,

  • Gum bi Rìgh Ruisiart beò fada! Long live King Richard (lit. May King Richard live long).
  • Gum bi beanachd Dè oirbh uile! May God bless you all!
  • Gun gabh e a fhois ann sìth May he rest in peace

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

  • 'Se àm gum fàg e a-nis It is time that he leave now
  • Tha e riatanach gun tèid iad gu sgoil gach là It is necessary that they go to school every day
  • Dh'fhaighnich e nach faic mi ise He asked that I not see her

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'.


  • Nan robh mi beartach, shiubhalainn air feadh an saoghal If I were rich, I would travel throughout the world
  • Nan nach dèanadh mi m' obair-dhachaigh, bhithinn air bhith ann trioblaid If I had not done my homework, I would have been in trouble


In the Irish language (also known as Irish Gaelic), 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's considered an old-fashioned tense for daily speech (except in set phrases) but still appears often in print.[7]

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 "teigh" (go) is "té":

  • Go dté tú slán. -- May you be well.

(lit: may you go well)

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

  • Go dtuga Dia ciall duit. -- May God give you sense.

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

  • Go ndéana an Diabhal toirneach de d'anam in Ifreann. -- May the Devil make thunder of your soul in Hell.

The subjunctive is generally formed by taking the present indicative tense of the verb and adding on the appropriate subjunctive ending depending on broad or slender, and first or second conjugation. For example, the present tense first person singular of bog (to move) is bog mé and its subjunctive in the same person is boga mé:

1st 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

2nd 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 math agat—uses the subjunctive of "bí" and literally means "may there be good at-you".

Please note that 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
  • Although, feoigh doesn't have a fáda (accent), the 'o' in this position is stressed (pronounced as though it is ó) and thus the subjunctive is irregular.

It is important to note that where the subjunctive is used in English, it may not be used in Irish and another tense might be used instead. For example:

  • If I were (past subjunctive) you, I would study for the exam tomorrow. -- Dá mba (past/conditional of the copula) mise tusa, dhéanfainn (conditional) staidéar ar don scrúdú amárach.
  • I wish *(that) you were (past sub.) here. -- Is mian liom go raibh (present sub.) tú anseo.
  • It is important that he choose (present sub.) the right way—Tá sé tábhachtach go roghnaíonn (present indicative) sé ar an mbealach ceart.
  • **When you're older (present ind.), you'll understand—Nuair a bheidh (future ind.) tú níos sine, beidh tú a thuiscint.
  • *Note that in English, the relative pronoun that can be omitted, in Irish the corresponding go must be retained.
  • **Note that in English, the present tense is often used to refer to a future state whereas in Irish there is less freedom with tenses (i.e. time is more strictly bound to the appropriate tense, present for present, past for past, future for future). In this particular example, you will be older and it is then that you will understand.

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", the subjunctive has nothing at all (except in the 2nd and 3rd person plural feminine where the "na" of the indicative is retained).

  • Indicative 3 sing. masc. yaktubu "he writes / is writing / will write" → Subjunctive yaktuba "he may / should write"
  • Indicative 3 plur. masc. yaktubūna "they write" → Subjunctive yaktubū "they may write"
  • Indicative 3 plur. fem. yaktubna "they write" → Subjunctive yaktubna "they may write"

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 form 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.

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

  • 3 sing. masc. huwwe byuktob "he writes / is writing / will write" → yuktob "he may / should write"
  • 3 plur. masc. homme byukotbuyukotbu

Moroccalan Arabic uses ka- or ta-.

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

  • (Law' /Momken enti tiktebi. "If /Maybe you write") (s.f)
  • (Law' /Momken enti ktebti . "If /Maybe you wrote") (s.f)
  • (Law' /Momken enti konti tektebi."If /Maybe you would write") (s.f)
  • (Law' /Momken enti ḥatktebi. "If /Maybe you will write") (s.f)


Final vowels disappeared from Hebrew in prehistoric times, so the distinction between indicative, subjunctive and jussive is nearly blurred even in Biblical Hebrew. A few relics remain for roots with a medial or final semivowel, such as yaqūm "he rises / will rise" versus yaqom "may he rise" and yihye "he will be" versus yehi "may he be". In modern Hebrew the situation has been carried even further, with the falling into disuse of forms like yaqom and yehi; 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).

  • יבוא" (Sheyavo) — "Let him come" or "May he come" (literally, "That (he) will come")
  • "אני רוצה שיבוא" (Ani rotzeh sheyavo) — "I want him to come" (literally, "I want that (he)will come")

The Biblical subjunctive survives in the third person singular forms of the verbs to be (להיות — lihyot, יהי/תהי or יהא/תהא) and to live (לחיות — likhyot, יחי/תחי), mostly in a literary register:

  • "יחי המלך" (Y'khi ha-melekh) — "Long live the king" (literally, "Live the-king")


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.


  • Add nekem! – 'Give it to me.' – demand
  • Menjünk! – 'Let's go.' – suggestion
  • Menjek? – 'Shall I go?' – suggestion/question
  • Menj! – 'Go!' – demand

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. ^ "Languages: Latin: curro." Verbix. N.p., 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2010. <>.
  4. ^ Leavitt O. Wright. "The Disappearing Spanish Verb Form in -Re." Hispania, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Mar., 1931), pp. 107-114.
  5. ^ More on the subjunctive in Portuguese can be found on Wikibooks.
  6. ^ Romanian Grammar detailed guide of Romanian grammar and usage.
  7. ^

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  • subjunctive mood — noun Mood expressing an action or state which is hypothetical or anticipated rather than actual, including wishes and commands. If John were here, he would know what to do. Syn: conjunctive mood …   Wiktionary

  • subjunctive — [səb juŋk′tiv] adj. [LL subjunctivus < L subjunctus, pp. of subjungere, to SUBJOIN] Gram. designating or of the mood of a verb that is used to express supposition, desire, hypothesis, possibility, etc., rather than to state an actual fact (Ex …   English World dictionary

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  • subjunctive — 1520s, mood employed to denote an action or state as conceived and not as a fact, from L.L. subjunctivus serving to join, connecting, from pp. stem of subjungere to append, add at the end, place under, from sub under (see SUB (Cf. sub )) +… …   Etymology dictionary

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