English Grammar 101: Verb Mood

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English verbs have four moods: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and infinitive.

Mood is the form of the verb that shows the mode or manner in which a thought is expressed.

1. Indicative Mood: expresses an assertion, denial, or question:

Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas.
Ostriches cannot fly.
Have you finished your homework?

2. Imperative Mood: expresses command, prohibition, entreaty, or advice:

Don’t smoke in this building.
Be careful!
Don’t drown that puppy!

3. Subjunctive Mood: expresses doubt or something contrary to fact.

Modern English speakers use indicative mood most of the time, resorting to a kind of “mixed subjunctive” that makes use of helping verbs:

If I should see him, I will tell him.

Americans are more likely to say:

If I see him, I will tell him.

The verb may can be used to express a wish:

May you have many more birthdays.
May you live long and prosper.

The verb were can also indicate the use of the subjunctive:

If I were you, I wouldn’t keep driving on those tires.
If he were governor, we’d be in better fiscal shape.

4. Infinitive Mood: expresses an action or state without reference to any subject. It can be the source of sentence fragments when the writer mistakenly thinks the infinitive form is a fully-functioning verb.

When we speak of the English infinitive, we usually mean the basic form of the verb with “to” in front of it: to go, to sing, to walk, to speak.

Verbs said to be in the infinitive mood can include participle forms ending in -ed and -ing. Verbs in the infinitive mood are not being used as verbs, but as other parts of speech:

To err is human; to forgive, divine. Here, to err and to forgive are used as nouns.

He is a man to be admired. Here, to be admired is an adjective, the equivalent of admirable. It describes the noun man.

He came to see you. Here, to see you is used as an adverb to tell why he came.

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20 thoughts on “English Grammar 101: Verb Mood”

  1. I would like to know the rules and name for sentences such as :
    I demand that you not yell at me; Is this a subjunctive form?
    I suggest he explain himself ; no conjugation I understand why it would be different to add an “s” but what might you call it?
    please somebody REPLY
    I’m used to eating at 3:00
    I’m looking forward to seeing you again; to followed by ING why?

  2. I enjoy English, but it is so inconsistent and requires much concentration. One cannot loose sight of his subject, since the context of whatever he says or writes uses the subject to determine the proper words to apply.

  3. I enjoy studying english with your document on internet. and I really like it, but I am not sure about subjunctive mood. for example
    ” If I see him, I will call him.” Is it used in the present tense?
    ” If I were you, I would woo her.” Is it used in the past”?
    please anybody answer to my address.

    I’m looking for ward to getting your answer.

  4. @Dora –

    “If I see him, I will call him” is a future real conditional — this sentence expresses a real possibility in the future time.
    It is possible you will see him and if you do see him, you will call him.

    “If I were you, I would woo her” — present unreal conditional. You are NOT me and therefore you can NOT woo her. “If I were you” is used for giving advice — i.e. “If I were you, I would exercise more.” The idea is that you are overweight/out of shape and need some exercise.

  5. Dora – You asked about “subjunctive” ….

    Yes, these are BOTH conditional sentences, but (I believe) only the second uses Subjunctive Mood:

    “If I were you….”

    You are not me, so this is a “Hypothetical” – it is not true at the time of writing, so this grammar follows subjunctive mood: “I were”
    (as opposed to imperative mood: “I was”)

    Many people might say: “If I was you…”
    this might be common in speaking, and some people believe that the Subjunctive mood is dying out….. it is old fashioned (many people argue)


  6. Iam still faced with change of knowing the difference between tense and aspect of a verb. Can some one help me out? I need to know the difference.

  7. Hello everybody.
    I have a real problems with classifying the following sentences:
    “Ask your teacher if you need more information”
    “Speak to your supervisor if any of these apply to you”.

    The problems is that the sentences use imperative form of verb, however, the second part of each sentence relates to hypotetical situation what makes me think that the sentences actuallt have subjunctive mood.
    Could anyone please clarify that for me?
    I would appreciate your help.

  8. The more I read grammar, the more I get confused. Where exactly should I start so that I learn English? What should I do to bail myself out of breaking rules of grammar?

  9. To Rod:
    In your sentence, “I’m looking forward to seeing you again,” the -ing is attached to “see” to indicate that (if you do see this person again) you will be seeing them in the present tense; it would be incorrect to say, “I am see you,” so it would also be incorrect to say, “I am looking forward to see you”.

  10. The subjunctive mood describes an imagery situation. In the imagery world all reules are broken. Therefore, If I were a king iwould have provided with food and shelter to one and all.
    See the change in verb. Were is never used with I. But in the instant case it is used.

  11. “….while helping students to gain the reading skills necessary…”


    “….while helping students gain the reading skills necessary…”

    Is “to” necessary?

  12. Nengededoo: In many Western European languages tense and aspect are not usually distinguished, though most have some structure that does correspond to aspect.

    In languages where the distinction is made, tense refers to time (past, present, future, perhaps also before-past [“I had eaten…”], before-future, near-future, etc.) Aspect refers to other information about the verb – for instance imperfection (I was eating vs I ate, I am eating vs I eat.) Russian has, I understand, a lot more options.

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