The Most Abused Sub in Fic Doesn’t Have a Safe Word: Using the Subjunctive Mood

It’s the least understood verb mood in the English language.  Generally speaking, the subjunctive is most often employed in subordinate clauses to express something that isn’t real—hypotheticals, wishes, possibilities, actions that have yet to occur—all of these require the subjunctive. So what does this mean for you as a writer?

These are the rules:

The present subjunctive (used to express present or past irrealities) takes the form of the bare infinitive.

 Example:  The college recommends all first-year students attend this seminar. 

The future subjunctive is used in if clauses of doubtful possibility with future reference.  Regardless of person and number, it uses the plural verb conjugation.

Example: If I were to attend the seminar, I’d have a few drinks beforehand. 

The past subjunctive is used to refer counter-factually to the present.

Example: I wish I weren’t at this boring-ass seminar. 

Confused? That’s okay. Just remember if and that clauses do something funky and that the verb therein should be past-tense plural. More often than not, you’ll get it right.

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