The subjunctive is a special, relatively rare verb form in English.
1. Structure of the Subjunctive:
The structure of the subjunctive is extremely simple. For all verbs except the past tense of be, the subjunctive is the same as the bare infinitive (infinitive without "to")
The Subjunctive is only noticeable in certain forms and tenses and the subjunctive does not change according to person (I, you, he etc).
I suggest that he study English!
The teacher insists that her students be on time.
|BE (PAST)||BE (PRESENT)||ALL OTHER VERBS (PAST & PRESENT)|
|I were||I be||I work|
|You were||You be||You work|
|He, She, It were||He, She, It be||He, She, It work|
|We were||We be||We work|
|You were||You be||You work|
|They were||They be||They work|
2. Use of the Subjunctive:
We use Subjunctives mainly when talking about events that are not certain to happen. For example, we use the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody:
wants to happen, hopes will happen or imagines happening.
Look at these examples:
Our boss requests that you be present at the meeting.
The teacher insists that his students be on time.
If you were at the meeting, the President would be happy.
The subjunctive is typically used after two structures:
ASK, COMMAND, DEMAND, INSIST, ORDER, PREFER, PROPOSE, RECOMMEND, REQUEST, REQUIRE, SUGGEST + THAT
IT IS ADVISABLE, CRUCIAL, DESIRABLE, ESSENTIAL, IMPERATIVE, IMPORTANT, NECESSARY, PREFERABLE, VITAL + THAT
Here are some examples with the subjunctive:
The manager insists that the car park be locked at night.
The director himself recommended that he join the company.
It is essential that we vote as soon as possible.
Notice that in these structures the subjunctive is always the same. It does not matter whether the sentence is past or present. Look at these examples:
Present: The President requests that they stop the war.
Past: The President requested that they stop the war.
Present: It is essential that she be present.
Past: It was essential that she be present.
In the Negative form, NOT precedes the verb in the infinitive without TO.
It is imperative that you not disclose the terms of the deal before tomorrow.
3. British English or American English:
The use of the subjunctive as above is more common in American English than in British English, where should + infinitive is often used:
The manager insists that the car park should be locked at night.
It was essential that we should vote as soon as possible.
We usually use the subjunctive "were" instead of "was" after if (and other words with similar meaning). Look at these sentences:
If I were you, I would ask her.
Suppose she were here. What would you say?
|FORMAL *||INFORMAL **|
|If I were younger, I would come with you.||If I was younger, I would come with you.|
|If he weren't so mean, he would buy me a car.||If he wasn't so mean, he would buy me a car.|
|I wish I weren't so bad at English.||I wish I wasn't so bad at English.|
|I wish the film were much longer.||I wish the film was much longer.|
|It's not as if I were dirty.||It's not as if I was dirty.|
|She acts as If she were the Queen of England!||She acts as If she was the Queen of England!|
|If I were you I would tell her the truth.||Note : We do not normally say "If I was you I would tell her the truth." even in familiar conversation.|
|* The were form is correct at all times.||* * (The was form is possible in informal, familiar conversation.)|