Optative mood

Optative mood

The optative mood (abbreviated opt) is a grammatical mood that indicates a wish or hope. It is similar to the cohortative mood, and closely related to the subjunctive mood.

Ancient Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Georgian, Kurdish, Old Prussian, Sanskrit, Turkish, and Navajo are examples of languages with an optative mood.

English has no morphological optative, but there are various constructions with optative meaning. One uses the modal verb may, e.g. May you have a long life! Another uses the phrase if only with a verb in the past or past subjunctive, e.g. If only I were rich! Another uses the present subjunctive, e.g. God save the Queen!

In Romanian, the conditional and optative moods have identical forms, thus being commonly referred to as the optative-conditional mood.


Indo-European languages


The optative is one of the four original moods of Proto-Indo-European (the other three being the indicative mood, the subjunctive mood, and the imperative mood).  However, many Indo-European languages lost the optative, or renamed optative forms as subjunctive.

Ancient Greek

In Ancient Greek, the optative is used to express wishes and potentiality in independent clauses. In dependent clauses (purpose, temporal, conditional), the optative is often used under past-tense main verbs. In Koine Greek, the optative began to be replaced by the subjunctive; in the New Testament, it was primarily used in set phrases. Its endings are characterized by οι (oi) in thematic verbs and ι in athematic verbs.


In Sanskrit, the optative is formed by adding the secondary endings to the verb stem. It sometimes expresses wishes, requests and commands: bhares "may you bear" (active voice) and bharethaas "may you bear [for yourself]" (middle). It also expresses possibilities (e.g. kadaacid goshabdena budhyeta "he might perhaps wake up due to the bellowing of cows")[1] or doubt and uncertainty (e.g., katham vidyaam Nalam "how would I be able to recognize Nala?"). The optative is sometimes used instead of a conditional mood.

Germanic languages

Some Germanic verb forms often known as subjunctives are actually descendants of the Proto-Indo-European optative. The Gothic present subjunctive nimai "may he take!" is related to Ancient Greek present optative phéroi "may he bear!"[2]


In Albanian, the optative (mënyra dëshirore "wishing mood") expresses wishes, and is used in curses and swearing.

  • Wish: U bëfsh 100 vjeç! (May you be 100 years)
  • Curse: Të marrtë djalli! (May devil take you)


In Finnish, the optative is archaic, mainly appearing in poetry. It is used as an "archaic" or "formal imperative", and it denotes a more subtle and polite request. It is formed using the suffixes -os and -ös, depending on vowel harmony; for instance, kävellös is the active voice second person singular in present optative of the verb kävellä (to walk). Altogether there are 28 verb inflections in the optative mood, complete with active and passive voice, present and perfect, three person forms both in singular and plural and a formal plural form. Most, if not all, of these forms are, however, utterly rare and are not familiar to non-professionals. Only some expressions have remained in day-to-day speech; for instance, one can be heard to say ollos hyvä instead of ole hyvä ("you're welcome" or "here you go"). This form carries an exaggerated, jocular connotation.

The Finnish optative expresses formality. For example, the ninth Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with Älköön ketään pidätettäkö mielivaltaisesti, "Not anyone shall be arrested arbitrarily", where älköön pidätettäkö "shall not be arrested" is the optative of ei pidätetä "is not arrested". (Also, using the conditional mood -isi- in conjunction with the clitic -pa yields an optative meaning, e.g. olisinpa "if I only were". Here, it is evident that the wish is not, and probably will not be, fulfilled.)


The Japanese optative is formed by using a conditional such as ba (-ば) or tara (~たら). For example, "I wish there were more time" is expressed literally as "If there were more time, it would be good." ( 時間があればいいのに jikan ga areba ii noni), where aru, the verb expressing existence, is in the ba conditional form areba. Ii is the present tense of "good," but if expressed in the past tense yokatta よかった, the sentence expresses regret instead of a wish or hope. The above example would become "If there had been time, it would have been good" 時間があればよかったのに, as might be said of an opportunity missed because of a lack of time.

See also


  1. ^ Gonda, J., 1966. A concise elementary grammar of the Sanskrit language with exercises, reading selections, and a glossary. Leiden, E.J. Brill.
  2. ^ Joseph Wright. Grammar of the Gothic language. page 137, paragraph 288: derivation of present subjunctive.

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  • Optative mood — Optative Op ta*tive, a. [L. optativus: cf. F. optatif.] Expressing desire or wish. Fuller. [1913 Webster] {Optative mood} (Gram.), that mood or form of a verb, as in Greek, Sanskrit, etc., in which a wish or desire is expressed. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • optative mood — mood that expresses a wish or desire (Grammar) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • optative mood — noun a mood (as in Greek or Sanskrit) that expresses a wish or hope; expressed in English by modal verbs • Syn: ↑optative • Topics: ↑Sanskrit, ↑Sanskritic language • Regions: ↑Greece, ↑Hellenic Republic, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • optative — [äp′tə tiv] adj. [Fr optatif < LL optativus < pp. of L optare: see OPTION] 1. expressing wish or desire 2. designating or of the grammatical mood, as in Greek, which expresses wish or desire n. 1. the optative mood 2. a verb in this mood… …   English World dictionary

  • Optative — Op ta*tive, n. [Cf. F. optatif.] 1. Something to be desired. [R.] Bacon. [1913 Webster] 2. (Gram.) The optative mood; also, a verb in the optative mood. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Optative — Op ta*tive, a. [L. optativus: cf. F. optatif.] Expressing desire or wish. Fuller. [1913 Webster] {Optative mood} (Gram.), that mood or form of a verb, as in Greek, Sanskrit, etc., in which a wish or desire is expressed. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Optative (Ancient Greek) — See also: Optative mood The optative mood, from Ancient Greek (énklisis) euktikē (inflection) for wishing [1] and Latin optātīvus (modus) (way) of wishing ,[2] is a grammatical mood of the Ancient Greek verb, named for its use as a way to express …   Wikipedia

  • optative — 1. adjective a) expressing a wish or a choice. b) related or pertaining to the optative mood. 2. noun a) a mood of verbs found in some languages (e.g. Old Prussian, Latin), used to express a w …   Wiktionary

  • optative — optatively, adv. /op teuh tiv/, Gram. adj. 1. designating or pertaining to a verb mood, as in Greek, that has among its functions the expression of a wish, as Greek íoimen may we go, we wish we might go. n. 2. the optative mood. 3. a verb in the… …   Universalium

  • optative — op•ta•tive [[t]ˈɒp tə tɪv[/t]] adj. 1) gram. of or pertaining to a verb mood, as in Greek, used to express a wish or desire 2) gram. the optative mood 3) gram. a verb in the optative mood • Etymology: 1520–30; < LL optātīvus= L optāt(us) (ptp …   From formal English to slang

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