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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)