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The Subjunctive Mode 

The subjunctive mode has a limited use in English. But to write well, you should have an understanding of it. 

The present subjunctive is used when you give a recommendation, suggestion, or command. Let’s look at some examples: 

Tom suggested the boys be on time tomorrow. (not are) 

The king commanded that the army go to the front immediately. (not goes) We suggest Maria have a good night’s sleep. (not has) 

I recommend she visit the doctor as soon as possible. (not visits) 

Present subjunctive conjugations are quite simple. The present subjunctive is formed from the infinitive and has no endings. Compare the present subjunctive of to be, to have, and to go with the present indicative (the form of the verb you already know). 

I am  be  have  have  go  go 
you are  be  have  have  go  go 
he is  be  has  have  goes  go 
we are  be  have  have  go  go 
they are  be  have  have  go  go 

 Use the past subjunctive conjugation when you want to express a wish. The phrase often begins with if: 

If only Juan were here. 

If I just had another twenty dollars. 

The past subjunctive is also used to set up a present condition (If this were the case, that would happen). The phrase beginning with ifsets the condition. 

If it stopped raining, I would be very happy. 

If you understood my problem, you would offer me better advice. 

wouldn’t do that if I were you. 

Notice that would and a verb are used in the phrase that does not contain if. 

The past subjunctive is formed from the simple past tense and, except for the verb to be, looks just like the past tense. Look at some examples with the verbs to beto have, and to look. 

I was  were  had  had  looked  looked 
you were  were  had  had  looked  looked 
he was  were  had  had  looked  looked 
we were  were  had  had  looked  looked 
they were  were  had  had  looked  looked 

In certain cases, the verb can be preceded by would. This use will be explained later. The preceding three verbs become would be, would have, and would look. 

When you use a verb with an auxiliary (is going, has spoken, is able to write), the same pattern occurs as shown previously. In the phrase that begins with if, use the auxiliary and participle. In the other phrase, use would followed by the auxiliary and participle. The phrase that begins with if sets the past condition. Let’s look at some examples: 

If he had earned enough money, he would have been going to college next fall. 

Tom would have spoken with you if he had seen you. 

If you had studied harder, you would have been able to write better. 


Exercise 1 Fill in the blank with the correct form of the verb shown. 

1. I have to recommend you (to speak) with her soon.

2. The sultan commanded she (to sing) for him.

3. Maria suggested he (to find) someone else todance with.

4. The boss recommended they (to be) on time fromnow on.

5. If only he (to have) not drunk so much.

6. I (to be) so happy if she came for a visit.

7. If you (to play) harder, we (towin) the game.

8. Juan (have bought) the car if it (have been) cheaper.

9. If only mother (to be) well again.

10. The lawyer suggested the man (to hire) someone else.

11. If the girl (have seen) the accident, she(have reported) it immediately.

12. Long (to live) the king!

13. Tom (to speak) with her if she (to smile) at him.

14. I (have helped) you if I (haveknown) how ill you are.

15. She suggested the man (to be) prepared for ablood test.

Exercise 2 Change the verbs in the following sentences from a present conditionto a past conditionby adding the auxiliary haveand changing the verb to past participle. For example: “If he came along, I would be glad.” When you add have it changes to: “If he had come along, I would have been glad.”

1. If Jorge were at home, he would answer the telephone.

2. If you earned enough money, you would be able to buy the car.

3. If Alicia sent him a picture, he would be the happiest man alive.

4. I wouldn’t say such a thing if I were the boss.

5. My brother would sell the old radio if it were his.

6. Would you really kiss me if I asked you to?

7. If Mr. Johnson got a ticket, his wife would be very angry with him.

8. If it snowed, they would have to go skiing.

9. If Robert overslept again, he would lose his job.

10. If only my sister were here.

Exercise 3 Now change the following sentences from a past condition to apresent condition. For example: “If he had come along, I would have been glad.”When you remove the auxiliary, it changes to: “If he came along, I would beglad.”
  1. If only he had seen the truck in time. 
  2. I wouldn’t have given her the money if I had known why she wanted it. 
  3. Would you have cared if I had gone out on a date with Carmen? 
  4. Maria would have had to stay overnight if she had missed the last train. 
  5. If I hadn’t had a flat tire, I wouldn’t have missed the sale. 
  6. If only you had been able to forgive me. 
  7. The boss would have fired her if he had seen her sleeping on the job. 
Exercise 4 Complete the following sentences with any appropriate phrase. 
  1. If Juanita had seen me at the store, _____________________.
  2. If you were my friend, _____________________. 
  3. If only the money _____________________today.
  4. I would be so grateful if _____________________.
  5. Tom wouldn’t have left you there if _____________________.
  6. Would you help the old woman if _____________________?
  7. If _____________________, the kitchen would be painted by now.
  8. If _____________________, we would have arranged a party forher.
  9. If you had earned a few dollars more, _____________________.
  10. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful surprise if _____________________?