Shifts in Mood NEC FACET Center
Introduction • Shifts in mood are often closely related to shifts in tense. • Both involve verbs. • We will begin this lesson by reviewing grammatical mood.
What is Grammatical Mood? • The grammatical term mood has nothing to do with frame of mind. • Instead, it is a variant of the word mode, meaning “manner or method.”
What does mood reveal? • Grammatical mood indicates the manner in which the writer conceives of the sentence--that is, the writer’s idea whether the sentence states fact, expresses doubt, gives a command, or performs some other function.
How can we tell the “mood” of a sentence? • The verb or verbs in each sentence indicate the mood in which the writer wrote the sentence.
The Three Moods • English employs three traditionally recognized moods: • Indicative • Imperative • Subjunctive
Indicative Mood • Writers most frequently use indicative mood. • Indicative sentences make statements of fact. • Example: John will fly to Chicago today. • Example: Although I can knit, I have never learned to sew.
Which of the following sentences is in indicative mood? • Peace be with you. • Leave that dog alone. • Harold was late to his wedding.
Answer • Harold was late to his wedding. • This sentence makes a simple statement of fact. • The other two sentences expressed a wish (peace be with you) or gave a command (Leave that dog alone).
Since the majority of English sentences express fact, you should not find it difficult to recognize the indicative mood.
Indicative Mood & Verb Tenses • The indicative mood employs common verb tenses: • Present: I see. • Past: I saw • Future: I will see. • Present Perfect: I have seen. • Past Perfect: I had seen. • Future Perfect: I shall (will) have seen.
Most grammarians classify interrogative sentences, as well as statements of fact, as indicative. • An interrogative sentence, as you know, asks a question. • Example: Was Harold late to his wedding?
Which of the following sentences is in the indicative mood? • Eat those beets immediately. • Has he decided to start lifting weights? • Heaven help you.
Answer • Has he decided to start lifting weights? • Remember that questions employ indicative mood, just as do those that state facts.
Writers use the imperative mood to give commands or to make requests. • Example: Eat your beets. (command) • Example: Please forgive me. (request)
The “Understood” You • All imperative verbs are in the second person, present tense. • Writers generally omit the subject, you, of an imperative verb, but writers understand it as part of the sentence.
Which of the following sentences is in the imperative mood? • Step right this way. • You should go home now. • The general commanded his company to charge.
Answer • Step right this way. • This sentence makes a request. • The subject, you, is understood, just as it is in most imperative sentences. • The omission of you helps make imperative sentences easier to recognize.
What is subjunctive mood? • The subjunctive mood expresses wishes and suppositions contrary to fact. • Example: Peace be with you. (wish) • He speaks French as if he were a Frenchman. (supposition contrary to fact)
In the second sentence, the main clause—He speaks French—is in the indicative because it states a fact. • The “as-if” clause uses the subjunctive because it expresses a condition contrary to fact: he is not really a Frenchman.
When the dependent clause is subjunctive, the main clause is normally indicative. • This shift is a logical and necessary one and not considered a faulty shift in mood.
Which of the following tests employs the subjunctive? • Go and get me some cream and sugar. • When she awoke, she could remember every detail of her dream. • I wish I were a kid again.
Answer • I wish I were a kid again. • The dependent clause—(that) I were a kid again—expresses a wish and is in the subjunctive. • The main clause—I wish—asserts a fact and is in the indicative.
In our day-to-day language use, the indicative has, to a large extent, replaced the subjunctive.
However, writers continue having difficulty with the subjunctive because its few surviving uses require special verb forms.
You should have little difficulty with the subjunctive once you know the following few forms.
Rule # 1 • The third person singular (he, she, it) of the present tense verb drops its –s or –es ending.
Application of Rule #1 • Therefore, although we would normally write “she leaves,” the subjunctive that se drop the -s. • Example: The old man asked that she leave him in peace.
Rule # 2 • The verb to be requires special treatment. • In the subjunctive, the present tense is always be, not the normal am, is, or are. • Example: Peace be with you. (Not “Peace is with you.”
Rule # 2, Continued: Past Tense of To Be • Similarly, in the subjunctive, the past tense is always were, never was. • Example: If I were a millionaire, I wouldn’t eat hamburger every night.
Advice • The past subjunctive of to be—always were—is the subjunctive form people most frequently use and misuse. • Therefore, you should pay particular attention to it.
Which of the following sentences employs the subjunctive correctly? • He be a very interesting person. • If he were not so lazy, he would go far. • We would not be talking about her if she was here.
Answer • If he were not so lazy, he would go far. • The if-clause makes a supposition contrary to the fact: he apparently is “so lazy.” • The verb uses the correct past tense subjunctive—were.
We correctly use subjunctive forms in several main situations. • The first two come naturally to native English-speakers.
Situations Requiring the Subjunctive • In a main clause expressing a wish: • God bless you. [not blesses] • In a that-clause expressing a request, a demand, a motion, or a formal resolution: • The teacher demanded that he leave the room. [not leaves] • Resolved: that this motion be tabled. [not is]
Only two subjunctive uses are likely to cause you difficulty. • The first appears as # 2 on the previous slide. • If you wish to look back at it, press your keyboard’s “page up” key.
Rule # 3 • In a that-clause expressing a wish • Example: He wishes that he were in India. (not was) Writers may often omit the that in sentences like the one above.
Rule # 4 Here is the other troublesome use: • In an if-clause expressing a condition contrary to fact that is impossible or highly improbable. • Even if he were a millionaire, she still would not marry him.
Remember . . . • The past tense of the verb to be is were, not was.
Caution • Not all if-clauses require the subjunctive. • You should use the indicative if the condition expressed by the if-clause is possible or probable. • The President stated that our forces would retaliate if the island was bombed.
Reminder • However, remember to use the subjunctive when the if-clause is clearly contrary to fact or purely hypothetical. • If I were President, I would not employ our forces to defend the island. • The person named as “I” is clearly not the President.
Which of the sentences below should employ the subjunctive? • If he was our father, he’d have a right to tell us what to do. • The traffic department decided that a motorist should be given a ticket if he was stopped for driving too slowly. • If I was caught without bus fare, I would simply walk home.
Answer • Only the sentence below states a supposition contrary to fact. • If he was our father, he’d have a right to tell us what to do.
Revised Sentence • The sentence should read as follows: • If he were our father, he’d have a right to tell us what to do.
Further Explanation • The remaining two sentences correctly used the indicative, rather than the subjunctive, because their if-clauses express possible or probableconditions. • The traffic department decided that a motorist should be given a ticket if he was stopped for driving too slowly. • If I was caught without bus fare, I would simply walk home.
While the subjunctive is becoming increasingly uncommon in speech, in writing it still preserves the fine distinctions of meaning that make English a rich language.