December 12

Building Blocks of English XIII: Verb Mood

English employs three verb moods–indicative, imperative and subjunctive.

Indicative mood is for simple statements, while the imperative is for commands:  “Run!”

However, it’s the subjunctive, represeting a wish or untrue situation, that befuddles virtually every English speaker.

Remember the line from the song in Fiddler on the Roof, “If I was a rich man…”?

Completely wrong verb usage!

Since the singer (“I”) is expressing an untrue situation, or a wish, the verb must be changed to the plural subjunctive form, were: “If I were a rich man….”

If can be a big indicator that the subjunctive mood is called for, but not invariably.  I wish is a definite call for the subjective:  “I wish you were more serious.”

For more examples, peruse this handy guide.

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Posted December 12, 2007 by Gary McCarty in category "Grammar Sucks


  1. By Dana on

    The song from the musical uses the proper form of the verb (lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man) but when Gwen Stefani co-opted the lyrics for her own “Rich Girl,” she changed the verb to “was.”

    Gwen got a lot of flak for using the counterfactual conditional, but so much because she employed the wrong verb form; rather, it’s not exactly hypothetical since she’s quite wealthy.


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