The Different Moods of Verb

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Verbs can be used to express differences in the intention or mood of the speaker or writer. There are three moods in English: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. Each has a specific function.

The indicative mood is used when the speaker or writer wishes to make a statement or ask a question.

    • He is leaving tomorrow.
    • Does this plane fly to London?
 

The imperative mood is used for commands or requests.

    • Call Fredericks and cancel that shipment.
    • Please return the book to the library.
    • Turn right at the corner, and then go left.

The subjunctive mood uses a different form of the past and present to express matters of urgency, formality, possibility, or speculation.

Urgency:

    • I demanded that she see me immediately. (The indicative mood would use the form sees or can see— for example, I want to know if she can see me immediately.)

Formality:

    • He recommended that the zoning law be adopted. (The indicative mood would use is adopted—for example, the vote is 44 to 3; the law is adopted.)

Possibility: 

    • If I were to sign the contract, we could not sell our own CDs. (The phrase If I were to sign expresses a future possibility. It has no reference to the past, even though were is a past tense verb form. Compare this sentence to Because I signed the contract, we could not sell our own CDs. In this sentence, the indicative mood describes an action that took place in the past.)

Speculation:

    • If he were king, he would make football the national pastime. (The subjunctive mood expresses something that is not true, a statement contrary to fact. The indicative mood, on the other hand, simply states a fact—for example, If he was the king, then his brother was a prince.)
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