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The Subjunctive.

If you have learned a foreign language such as French, German or Spanish you may well have had to do battle with the subjunctive. It is little used in English but worth getting to grips with nonetheless.

The subjunctive mood, as it is known, is used to indicate a hypothetical or speculative situation:

In the following examples the subjunctive is given in brackets:

If only I was [were] rich, I would be able to afford to buy a house.

I would like him better if he was [were] more sociable.

If the weather was [were] better, we would be in a better mood.

If the 'if' clause is simply reporting a factual situation, there is no need for the subjunctive.

If the weather had been better, we would have enjoyed our holiday better.

The subjunctive is also used after verbs indicating obligation, requirement or compulsion. The word 'that' in such situations often hints at the need for the subjunctive:

It is important that these new facts are [be] taken into consideration.

The government has rejected calls that it amends [amend] the law.

The coach insisted that the new player plays [play] in the team's opening match.

The boss demanded that we are [be] back in the office by one o'clock.

The P.M requested that the minister uses [use] plain English.

The subjunctive is quite tricky, partly because it is so little used and therefore very little taught in English. As it is often not used in situations where it is necessary, sentences that require the subjunctive can sound perfectly correct without it.

Test your understanding of the subjunctive with this exercise.