Subjunctive Tenses in English, Definition and Example Sentences

Subjunctive Tenses in English, Definition and Example Sentences


English Grammar Chart

Subjunctive Tenses in English

In the English language, there is a special tense called subjunctive tenses. This tense is sui generis, a relatively rare form of a verb that is about something to be desired or imagined. You can commonly see them on formal types of business emails. If one of the colleagues of yours sends you an email like “We better be discussing the details.” Her/his point is he/she wants to discuss the details with you.  The subjective tense is used primarily in the case of events that are not certain to happen. Somebody uses the subjective tense in the following cases:

  • Somebody wants to happen.
  • Somebody assumes it will happen.
  • Somebody imagines that the thing will happen.

The present subjunctive

When we use subjunctive tenses in English it is not hard to use. The form of the base subjunctive is literally the same as the base form in all persons of the verb. There is a tiny, a single exclusion here. In that case, there is no “-s” on the third person singular. The subjunctive tense is rarely used in ordinary English. It is a very formal type of expression that takes place in secondary clauses that include verbs expressing a wish, an appeal, a formal proposition. By the way, the present subjunctive can be found in several set phrases. The usage below without “that” belongs to very formal British English. It is rarely used in American English. Please be careful that in that case the clause containing the subjunctive is not attached to the main clause with “that” here.

  1. God save the queen!
  2. God bless you!
  3. Oh god, please help me!
  4. Heaven forbid that that should happen to a great person like you.
  5. “Consider that if the only choice you have is to do the wrong thing, then it is not really the “wrong” thing. It is more like fate”, said our legendary poet Sam Lake.
  6. I order that she cook something to complete for this.
  7. I suggest that Rage Against the Machine give a glorious concert during the spring break.

The clause that the subjunctive tense is related to the main clause with the word “that”

There is more than one way to use the subjunctive tenses in English. In American English, people generally prefer to relate the main cause of the word “that”. The British way is not like this. The British people prefer commonly use the other ways of expressions that include the exact same message, chiefly in the case of less formal speech.

  1. I only ask that she cease behaving in this ridiculous manner.
  2. It is crucial that you be started twice.
  3. It is important to make experiments about what will you do in this course.
  4. Is it really necessary for him to work all days of the week?


The past tense of the subjunctive

In written and very formal usage of English, the past tense of the subjunctive is “were” and it is used with the first and third-person singular even if its correct usage in the present past tense “was”. The past subjunctive tense may be used after “if” or “I wish” to express anguish or aspiration. You can examine the first six examples. Also, the past subjunctive tense may be used after “as if/as though” and related interpretations to express doubt or impossibility. The examples after the sixth one are based on this case.

  • How I wish, how I wish you were here? After all the things happened to us.
  • If I were more beautiful, he would interest me. Would not he?
  • Oh god, I wish had an angel. Probably, the world would be better than this.
  • They call me a mad man. I wish it were true. I can not stand to be alone with my thoughts about myself.
  • Woman, he said, I wish I knew you before you met that guy. It does not work that way. Farewell.
  • If only she were here now. I almost smell her scent.
  • One of the slaves said I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. He was born as a slave. What a great life?
  • You give him the lame jobs to him as if he were your slave!
  • The opposition forces are killing the people as if they were in a computer game.
  • Some dogs behave as though people were a dog.
  • Remote education cannot seem like regular education. Some academics consider it as though students were lazy.
  • The children were chasing us as if we were skeletons and they were dogs.
  • You try to live like an immortal as though you are.
  • It seems like the last job applicant lied on her CV. She points out she did an internship at HTK Game Labs as if she did.


The past tense of the subjunctive in ordinary English

When you use the subjunctive tenses in English, we pointed out like the past tense of the subjunctive is “were” and it is used with the first and third-person singular even if its correct usage in the present past tense “was”. None of the languages is a strict set of rules. There is always an exception to any rule. For example, this one. Many English-speaking people prefer to use the normal usage of the past tense when using the subjunctive tenses in English. This is actually adequate in ordinary English that is spoken on the streets.

  • If your uncle Sam was alive, he would love you more than anyone. You are totally like him.
  • If I was intelligent as you, I would definitely work for an intelligence agency, like MI6 or FBI. It is super cool.
  • Many children in the USA say that I wish was taller enough to play in the NBA. But this thought is not legitimate. The best players in the NBA are the shorter ones.
  • If I was a carpenter and you were a lady. Would you marry me anyway? Would you have my children?