The Subjunctive In EnglishOne part of speech in which I often see grammatical errors or incorrect use is the subjunctive. In other languages it takes a different form or conjugation so is clearly recognisable, but in English it can be a bit tricky as it uses the second person plural, which looks exactly like the bare infinitive. Then again sometimes it doesn’t worry about the second person, and just goes back to the root verb. Be alert, and pay attention.

The subjunctive is utilised in formal, and more so now in Business English, when there is a need to express the importance of something. It usually follows verbs like recommend, insist or suggest, and other words that express these ideas, such as vital, necessary, important or essential.

The subjunctive takes the bare infinitive form of the verb, and all persons including the third person singular are written or spoken without an ‘s’. It has the same form whether we are referring to the present, past or future.

We recommend that each member staff acknowledge receipt of this letter. 

They insisted that we go with her. 

It is vital that children remain in the school grounds until their parents collect them.

They claimed it was essential that the security system be checked.

In the negative form, the subjunctive does not take the auxilliary do:

They insisted that we not stay any longer. 

It is vital that children not leave the school grounds until their parents collect them.

Note that the subjunctive form of the verb to be is be for all persons:

I be / you be / he be / she be, etc.

To avoid use of the subjunctive, use the structure should + infinitive:

We insist that all staff should acknowledge receipt of this letter. 

They insisted that we should go with them. 

It is vital that children should remain in the school grounds until their parents collect them. 

The subjunctive is also used in some fixed phrases:

Be that as it may, you are still required to attend. 

If they insist on that attitude, then so be it

Heaven forbid! 

God save theQueen

The use of the verb form were in some conditional sentences is also a form of the subjunctive:

If I were you, I’d see a doctor. 

He wishes he were here with you.

But, I be a writer and be good at grammar too, is not the subjunctive however. Good luck with perfecting your use of this often, but very useful and forgotten part of speech.

The Subjunctive Mood In English
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