Updated: May 18, 2021
*Excerpt from the forthcoming grammar book Practical English: Theory and Exercises, Book 5. For Practical English: Theory and Exercises, Book 1, go to Publications
The Subjunctive is the grammatical mood showing situations that may happen or (regretfully) may no longer be possible in the past, present, or future.
The Indicative mood shows real situations, or temporally rooted facts.
The Subjunctive mood deals with the unlikely-to-happen state of situations.
the form of simple bare infinitive(Vb1)
in fixed expressions and exclamations
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Other examples of formulaic Subjunctive
(1) Come what may!
(-> I’m ready for whatever may happen to me.)
(2) Long live democracy!
(-> We are for democracy and therefore we cherish it.)
(3) (Heaven) bless you!
(-> I ask Heaven to send you all the good energy and love.)
(4) Be that as it may, we’ll keep trying until we succeed.
(-> Whether that is true or not, we’ll keep trying until we succeed.)
(5) If you want war, then so be it!
(-> If you want war, then war it is!)
(6) We’ll wait for her in the rain if need be.
(-> If it is necessary to wait for her in the rain, we’ll do it then.)
(7) Heaven forbid!
(-> I ask Heaven to help me stay away from anything bad.)
(8) My sister, be it known, didn’t react to his jokes in any way.
(-> My sister, I want everybody to know, didn’t react at his jokes in any way.)
(9) The help you are getting from me, be it understood, is in no way a sign of
us being together again.
(->The help you are getting from me, I want you to clearly understand this, is
in no way a sign of us being together again.)
(10) Far be it from me to force you to move abroad with me.
(-> I don’t have the slightest intention to force you to move abroad with me.)
(11) Be yours a safe trip!
(-> I wish you a safe trip.)
(12) Say what you will, I’ll go on my way!
(-> I’ll go on my way no matter what you are going to say.)
(13) The children are being so quiet these days, be it ever so relaxed.
(->The children are being so quiet these days, relaxed as never before.)
(14) Heaven save the Queen!
(-> We ask Heaven to protect the Queen.)
(15) Heaven help us!
(-> We ask Heaven to help us.)
(16) Curse this rainy weather!
(-> We are disturbed by this rainy weather.)
(17) Heaven rest his soul in peace!
(-> We ask Heaven to take care of his soul, as he’s departed this life.)
(18) Damn you!
(->I’m swearing at you to show that I have a strong negative feeling toward
(19) Try as he will, he’ll never be to her taste.
(-> No matter how hard he may/will try, he’ll never be to her taste.)
(20) Say what they will, I’ll follow my inner guidance on this.
(-> No matter what they will/may say, I’ll follow my inner guidance on this.)
with imperative verb forms when the subject is expressed in the sentence
e.g. (1) Somebody say something. It’s too peace and quiet in here.
(2) You over there come after her.
(3) I have a terrible headache. Somebody give me an aspirin or something.
(4) You mark my words and mark them well: if he doesn’t come, I won’t
In that-clauses to indicate the idea of necessity, importance, or implicit obligation in specific situations in the past, present, or future
This form of Vb1 subjunctive is used in formal writings, regulations, legal documents, and literary works in British English, but in less formal and more common circumstances in American English.
e.g. (1) She insisted that I come earlier.
(2) Our math teacher recommends that we learn/be learning more this
(3) They require that you not participate/not be participating in the
(4) The plant workers asked that their salaries be raised by up to 15%.
(5) The union leaders demanded that work regulations not be
e.g. (1) It was suggested that I come earlier.
(2) It is recommended that we learn/be learning more this semester.
(3) It is required that you not participate/not be participating in the
(4) It was asked that salaries be raised by up to 15%.
(5) It is demanded that work regulations not be overhauled again.
e.g. (1) It was essential that he come earlier.
(2) It is better that we learn/be learning more this semester.
(3) It is (only) fair that you not participate/not be participating in the
(4) It was imperative that salaries be raised up to 15%.
(5) It is important that work regulations not be overhauled again.
In that-clauses with nouns derived from subjunctive verbs and adjectives
e.g. (1) The proposal that he be appointed manager was rejected.
(2) There was a suggestion that Sarah be our next leader.
(3) Their demands that salaries increase considerably next month will be
(4) The workers complied with the decision that a new union leader be
(5) His wish was that he move abroad with his girlfriend.
With the phrase would rather/sooner to express an unfulfilled wish or preference in the present or future
would rather/sooner + Vb1 + than + Vb1 = (equivalent to)
-> prefer + noun/gerund (Vb1-ing) + to + noun/gerund (vb1-ing)/adverb
-> would prefer + long infinitive/noun (only with the action, activity, or object preferred)
-> like + noun/gerund (Vb1-ing) + better than + noun/gerund (Vb1-ing)/adverb
Preference in the present or future
e.g. (1) They would rather/sooner stay indoors than lie in the scorching sun.
-> They prefer staying indoors to lying in the scorching sun.
-> They’d prefer to stay indoors.
-> They like staying indoors better than lying in the scorching sun.
(2) I’d rather/sooner eat vegetables than (eat) meat.
-> I prefer (eating) vegetables to (eating)meat.
-> I’d prefer (to eat) vegetables.
-> I like (eating) vegetables better than (eating) meat.
When the object of preference is an adverb, the repetition of the verb is unnecessary.
(3) She would rather/sooner come tomorrow than (come) today.
> She prefers coming tomorrow to (coming) today.
-> She’d prefer to come tomorrow.
-> She likes coming tomorrow better than (coming) today.
*(4) They would rather/sooner not come to our party tomorrow.
-> They prefer not coming to our party tomorrow.
-> They’d prefer not to come to our party tomorrow.
*(5) I’d rather/sooner be hired by a big company than/instead of (by) a
-> I prefer being hired by a big company to/instead of (being hired by) a
*(6) Rather/sooner than stay home she would go out tonight. (very formal)
-> She prefers going out tonight to staying home.
-> She’d prefer to go out tonight.
-> She likes going out tonight better than staying home.
*(7) Would you rather/sooner teach or write for a living?
-> Would you prefer to teach or (to) write for a living?
*(8) Wouldn’t you rather/sooner take it easy?
-> Wouldn’t you prefer to take it easy?
The phrase would rather/sooner cannot indicate a preference in the past.
Preference in the past
e.g. (1) Sarah preferred changing the subject to having an argument with him.
(2) Sarah liked changing the subject better than having an argument with
The phrase would rather/sooner is not synonymous with the phrase would (rather/quite) like + to Vb1/noun, since the latter does not indicate preference but a particular like or desire.
would rather/sooner + to Vb1 ≠ would (rather/quite) like + to Vb1/noun
e.g. (1) He’d rather have beef for dinner.
(2) He would quite like beef/to have beef for dinner.
(3) I’d rather eat some fish than beef for dinner, though.
(4) I would prefer to eat fish, though.
(5) Would you rather watch a movie or read a book?
(6) I would (rather/quite) like a moment of relaxation.
(7) Would she rather stay with her friends than be alone with you?
(8) She would (rather/quite) like to stay home tonight.
Unfulfilled preference, wish, or regret
would rather/sooner + perfect infinitive + than + perfect infinitive/past participle(Vb3)
e.g. (1) I would rather/sooner have gone out with him than (have) listened to her silly jokes all night.
(2) I’d prefer/like to have gone out with him.
(3) I would rather/sooner have called you earlier than (have) dealt with
that nasty issue all by myself.
(4) I’d prefer/like to have called you earlier.
(5) She said she’d rather have gone mushrooming than (have gone)
(6) We’d sooner have driven to Paris than (have driven to) Lyon.
(7) You’d rather have quit than (have) done your manager’s bidding once
again, wouldn’t you?
With the phrase had better to express advisability for the (immediate) future, a threat, or a warning
had better + Vb1
e.g. (1) You had better study harder for the forthcoming exam.
(-> It would be good/better to study harder for the forthcoming exam.)
(2) It’s pouring with rain. I’d better stay in this evening.
(3) You’d better listen to him if you don’t want to have troubles later on.
(4) “I’ll phone you tomorrow.”
“You better had.”(emphatic meaning in British English)
“You’d better.”/ “You’d better not.”(regular use)
(5) She’d better not tell them about the damaged car.
(6) Hadn’t they better make friends with their noisy neighbors?
(7) You’d better come inside right now or else!
(8) I’ve just broken up with my two-week boyfriend. I’d better open my eyes
wider next time.
In if-clauses Type 1 (older English, very formal or literary, especially American English)
e.g. I won’t come if he (should) be there.
In Although/Though-clauses(very formal or literary, especially in American English)
e.g. Although he (may) disrespect your points of view, I will always look up at you.
Present subjunctive (Vb1) is more common in both spoken and formal American English while British English uses the for-to and that-should constructions as its equivalents in informal contexts.