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Subjunctive Mood on GMAT


On this page, we will explain one of the often overlooked aspects of GMAT grammar, the subjunctive mood. This twenty-minute video will cover exactly what the "moods" of the English language are, nature and use of the subjunctive mood, and its use on the GMAT. If you feel that it will be easier for you to understand this concept, via text, you can consult our article on the same, below.


Subjunctive Mood


Understanding the subjunctive mood is one area that many GMAT takers struggle in. Recognizing the complexity of the subject, we have put together a comprehensive resource that can simplify it for you. Let us begin with a very simple example:

You wish it were simple.
If you think that rather than "were" this sentence should have employed "was", then you are struggling with the subjunctive mood. No need to worry though; with our help, you will soon be able to understand this concept.

Moods in the English Language


To begin with, we must first cover the three moods of the English language; they are as follows:

Indicative Mood

- This is the most commonly used mood in the English language, used to express facts/opinions and ask questions. Hence, most sentences (including this one) are in the indicative mood.

Imperative Mood

- The imperative mood is used to express commands, such as Jack must eat.

Subjunctive Mood

- Now we come to the most interesting of the moods. The subjunctive mood is used to express possibilities and is of great interest to the GMAT; we will be exploring it in a lot of detail.

Subjunctive Mood - an Informal Note


The purpose of the subjunctive mood is to explore conditional or imaginary situations, and it can be quite tricky to use, which partially explains why many speakers and writers forgo it in candid conversations. As a result, the indicative mood is often colloquially accepted in places where it is technically correct to utilize the subjunctive mood. However, this is not acceptable on the GMAT. The subjunctive mood is also quite useful and aesthetically pleasing; if you can appreciate why the sentence I wish I were a King. is grammatically correct, you probably relate to the grammatical aesthetics. Careful users of the English language try to preserve the subjunctive mood and take great pride in it.

Application of Subjunctive Mood


1. To Express a Wish or Hypothesis

The first, and most common, use of the subjunctive mood is to express a wish or hypothesis; when the subjunctive mood is used to do so, the plural verb form is used. Let us illustrate this point by taking up the following example:

I wish I were a king.
Please note the usage of the plural verb "were", in reference to the singular pronoun "I", rather than the singular verb "was". The use of the plural form of the verb is correct in this sentence because of the subjunctive nature of the information presented; a wish is being expressed. Let us take a look at another example:

The space scientists postulate that the magic particle exists.
As this sentence is expressing a hypothesis, the singular verb "exists" is not the correct usage; the plural verb "exists" must be used.

2. To Express a Situation Contrary to the Fact

The second use of the subjunctive mood is in expressing situations that are contrary to fact; this means that when a situation that is not real is expressed, the plural form of the verb is used. Let us take a look at the following example:

If I was Prime Minister, politics would be cleaner.
This sentence implies that the speaker is not the Prime Minister, meaning that is expressing a situation that is contrary to fact; hence, the information presented here is subjunctive in nature and the plural form of the verb must be used. Thus; the correct sentence would be as follows:

If I were the Prime Minister, politics would be cleaner.

Important Point

Be aware of the "if...would" construction, on the GMAT. This construction is a clear indicator of information that is contrary to the fact and thus, subjunctive. Let us elaborate upon this point, with the help of the following example:

If I was a sportsperson, I would be fit.
Here we can clearly see the "if...would construction, "if...something, would something else". On a side note, the use of "then" is such sentences is incorrect; when the "if...would" construction is employed, "then" is always silent. Coming back to our main point, as this sentence employs the "if...would" construction, the information expressed is subjunctive; thus, the use of the singular form of the verb is incorrect and the correct sentence will be:

If I were a sportsman, I would be fit.

3. To Express a Command/Demand/Suggestion/Necessity

The basic concept here is that when the subjunctive mood is applied to express a command, demand, suggestion, or necessity the most basic form of the verb is used. Let us illustrate this point with the following example:

The teacher asked Jack that he recites the poem.
The construction "asked...that", meaning a command followed by the word "that", indicates subjunctive information. Thus, the basic form of the verb must be used, and the correct sentence will be:

The teacher asked Jack that he recite the poem.
Here are a few more examples; please try to solve them yourselves.

Example 1. The workers demanded that the Managing Director resign from his position. - This sentence is correct; "demanded…that" clearly reflects demand, meaning that the basic form of the verb must be used.

Example 2. The teacher recommends that each student revise notes. - In this sentence, "recommends that" functions as a suggestion; as such, the nature of the information is subjunctive and the basic form of the verb must be used rather than the plural form.

Example 3. It's essential that the judge hear the testimony. - This sentence talks about a necessity, reflected by the use of "is essential that"; this means that the information presented in subjunctive and the basic form of the verb must be used.

Another Important Concept - The "that...be" Construction


Please carefully read the following sentence:

The judge ordered that the accused be taken away by the cop.
This sentence employs a common sentence structure that is perfectly correct on the GMAT, subject + bossy verb + that + something be done. The subject in the sentence is "judge", the bossy verb is "ordered", and something be done is " the accused be taken away". While this sentence is wordy, it is perfectly correct by the standards of the GMAT; a better way to express the same message would have been: The judge ordered that the cop take the accused away.

Identifying the Subjunctive Triggers


In this section, we will discuss how to identify when the subjunctive mood is in play. There are certain constructions and words whose presence indicate the use of the subjunctive mood; by understanding these triggers, you will be able to correctly identify where you must alter the verb form to fit the subjunctive mood.

1. The first trigger is the "if...would" construction. This construction indicates that the information presented is subjunctive as seen in the earlier example, If I were the Prime Minister, politics would be cleaner.

2. The second trigger is the "bossy verb + be" construction. Bossy verbs are verbs, such as command, demand, recommended etc., that are used to demand or request that some action be taken. As we can see in the example sentence, The judge ordered that the accused be taken into custody., this construction also indicates the use of the subjunctive mood.

3. Similar to the last construction, the "bossy verb + that" construction is also an indicator that the subjunctive mood is in play. For example, The teacher asked Jack that he recite the poem.

4. The Wishful Verbs As the subjunctive mood is used to express desires and hypothesis, the presence of wishful verbs is a clear indicator of its use. Such wishful verbs include wish, hope, hypothesize, assume, etc. For example, I wish I were a king.

Exercises


Let us now go through a few exercises, based on the subjunctive mood; fill in each blank with the correct form of the verb in the brackets. Please attempt these exercises yourself, before reading the explanations.

1. The dietician recommended that Suzie (reduces)          her daily sodium intake.

2. The law mandates that (wear helmets)        by everyone while driving a motorcycle.

3. Jack told Lily that he (like)        various television series.

4. If I (was)        rich, I (will)         buy you the necklace.

5. It is necessary that the guard (monitor)         the main entrance at night.

6. The Prime Minister insisted that the promises made to the public (honor)        .

7. The law requires that the accused (present)         in the court, within 48 hours of arrest.

Explanations


1. The dietician recommended that Suzie reduce her daily sodium intake.
This sentence uses the word "recommended", reflecting a suggestion; this means that the subjunctive mood is in play and the verb form to use is "reduce".

2. The law mandates that helmets be worn by everyone while driving a motorcycle.
This sentence utilizes the "bossy verb + that", clearly indicating that the subjunctive mood is in use. Furthermore, the use of the passive voice indicates that the correct verb form is "helmets be worn".

3. Jack told Lily that he likes various television series.
This question is a trap meant to catch those who would unthinkingly use the base form of the verb, in all situations. This approach is not correct; you must identify where the subjunctive mood is being used. In this sentence, a fact is being stated; no wishes or hypothesis are being suggested, so the subjunctive mood is not in use, and the singular verb form must be used.

4. If I were rich, I would buy you the necklace.
As this sentence expresses a wish, we will utilize "were" to fill in the first blank; the second blank will be filled with "would", to complete the "if...would" construction.

5. It is necessary that the guard monitor the main entrance at night.
Normally, the singular verb "monitors" would be used when referring to a singular guard; however, this sentence suggests a necessity, and that means the subjunctive mood is in play. Thus, the plural verb "monitor" will be used.

6. The Prime Minister insisted that the promises made to the public be honored.
The use of the "bossy verb + that" clearly indicated that the subjunctive mood is in play; the correct verb form to employ here is "be honored", as it completes the "bossy verb + be" construction.

7. The law requires that the accused be presented in the court, within 48 hours of arrest.
Once again, this sentence uses the "bossy verb + that +something be done" construction; thus, the subjunctive mood is in play, and the correct verb form is "be presented".

An Official Guide Question


Now that we have covered this topic in detail, we will go through one of the subjunctive mood-based questions from the official GMAT guide. As earlier, please try to solve the question yourself before reading the explanation.

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate customers demanding that it should bring back the original coke formula.

(A) demanding that it should
(B) demanding it to
(C) and their demand to
(D) who demanded that it
(E) who demanded it to

As always, you should proceed with this question using the elimination method. Option A can be eliminated because "demanding...should" is redundant. We can also eliminate Option B, as "demanding" would not be the best verb for the past tense. Option C should be eliminated because "and their demand to" changes the meaning of the sentence; the meaning of the sentence is that the company yielded to the customers' demands, not that they yielded to the customers and the demands separately.

The correct answer choice is clearly between Option D and Option E. The final elimination may seem a bit tricky here, but it will become much simpler once you realize that the nature of the information presented here is subjunctive. This sentence has a subject that is followed by a bossy verb, and the bossy verb is followed by a "that". Thus, we can conclude that the basic form of the verb must be employed and Option D is the best answer choice. The final elimination could also have been made by determining that "demanded...to" is unidiomatic.

One More Question


Let us take up one more sample question, before concluding this article; as always, please try to solve it yourself before reading the explanation.

As with all grammar and usage matters, the rules for subjunctive mood are based on centuries of convention; there is no deeper reason and it just is what it is; however the subjunctive mood is aesthetically pleasing, and if it is to go away, it would be a loss.

(A) is to go away, it would be a loss.
(B) had to go away, it would be a loss.
(C) has to go away, it would be a loss.
(D) were to go away, it would be a loss.
(E) goes away, it will be a loss.

This sentence quite conveys the sentiment that English lovers hold, regarding the subjunctive mood. For practical purposes. on the GMAT, you should begin your analysis after the semicolon. As the sentence follows the "if...would" structure, the subjunctive mood is in play the plural verb for needs to be used; that means Option A can be eliminated, as it uses the singular "is". Option B can also be eliminated, as "had to go away" is not the correct usage either. Option C should be eliminated because "has to go away" slightly changes the meaning of the sentence. Once again, the final elimination is between Option D and Option C. Given the subjunctive nature of the information presented, in this sentence, it is clear that "were to go away" is the correct verb form to employ. Thus, we can confidently say that Option D is the best answer choice.

On a departing note, we would like to state that if the subjunctive mood were to go away, it would indeed be a loss for the English language.

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