subjunctive (another point of view) – subjunctive mood in English

Examples of the subjunctive mood in English

Common expressions

These are sometimes termed formulaic subjunctives.

  • be that as it may
  • blessed be !
  • far be it from me
  • if it please the court
  • if need be
  • truth be told
  • God bless [you | her | him | them | us every one]
  • come what may
  • [God | Heaven] forbid !
  • perish the thought
  • God save [the alpacas | the Queen | the King | our merry band]
  • suffice it to say

Specific examples in different media

These examples are in reverse chronological order. “Overheard” denotes examples overheard in conversation (I was not eavesdropping, I just have active ears !), and “Conversation” denotes uses by others in conversations in which I participated (to maintain privacy, some names have been omitted). Words in the subjunctive are in bold; words associated with the subjunctive are underlined. My additions or modifying comments are placed in [square brackets].

I wish it were summer.
Subject line, email spam (2004-01-04)

It’s important that our Judiciary be full.
George W. Bush, President of the U.S. (2002-05-09)

Hassan asks that a shaman abstract a talc cataplasm that can thwart a blatant rash (raw scars that can scar a man’s scalp and gall a man’s glans: scratch, scratch).
Christian Bök (2001). Eunoia, ISBN 1-55245-092-9, p. 30.

The ultimate goal of the Arabs is that the distinction be made …
News, National Public Radio (USA) (2001-01-19)

It’s not really vital he be involved in this call.
Conversation (2001-04-03)

It seemed fated that the project take its name from the Scripture celebrating renewal.
Ed Marcum, The News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee) (2001-03-21)

If it were not for the pleadings of my granddaughter, you would be dead already.
If you weren’t a Doone, I could almost like you.
From the movie, Lorna Doone (2000) (A&E, US television) (2001-03-11)

If only the weather were this reliable.
Walgreens advertisement (US television) (2001-02-17)

Harris was determined that the film be authentic.
CBS Sunday Morning (US television) (2001-02-11)

After vehemently defending the procedures outlined in the many articles, KB’s, and publications from MS regarding the best practices of EFS use, I have come across some new information (to me, anyway) which mandates that I consume a morsel of crow.
“Attonbitus Deus”, BugTraq (2001-01-30)

Growing up, my mother was so concerned that we not be brought up as “cheap” Irish. It was so important to my mother that we be thought of as classic, “lace-curtain” Irish.
Conan O’Brien, Tonight Show with Jay Leno (2001-01-23)

I did not dictate to the President how he go about …
Robert Ray, on This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts (US television) (2001-01-21)

Lord help us.
Sign in the inaugural procession for George Walker Bush (2001-01-20)

– Dr. Clive, this is hardly helpful.
– Helpful be damned !
From the miniseries Horatio Hornblower, episode “Mutiny” or “Retribution” (US television) (2001)

– I wish it were enough.
If it were, then you wouldn’t be the man I feel in love with.
From the series “Andromeda”, episode #108 “The Banks of the Lethe” (US television) (2000-11-20)

This would be wise advice, if only the situation were like that – if the job were done and it were time to relax. If only that were true! But challenges abound, and this is no time to take the future for granted.
— —
If “the job” really were done, if there were nothing at stake except credit, perhaps it would be wiser to let the matter drop. But we are not in that position.
Richard Stallman, “By any other name…”, commentary on AnchorDesk (2000-10-13)

The Gore campaign is eager that their candidate step out of the shadows.
Anthony Brooks (correspondent), All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-08-15)
[“Their”, “its”, same difference ...]

If that had failed, he would have urged that the matter be resolved in a family court. [approximate quotation]
Anthony Brooks (correspondent), All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-04-25)

It is imperative that everyone play pianissimo during the spoken monologue.
From the series “Frasier” (US television) (2000-04-13)

We are adamant that that not happen.
Conversation (2000-04-04)

Last year, North Carolina became the first to mandate its police collect such data, and after being threatened with federal investigations, New Jersey and Maryland reached agreements with the federal government ensuring that state troopers would no longer pull over cars based on the driver’s skin color.
Cheryl Corley (correspondent), All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-03-30)

It is in the interest of the United States that Russia be a democracy. That is [essentially] a good thing.
Strobe Talbot, US Deputy Secretary of State, interviewed on Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-03-29)

They recommend he remain in jail for another six months until the next review.
Barbara Bradley (correspondent), All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-03-27)

And that should put you to rest on any terrain, be it off road or on.
Jeep advertisement (US television) (2000-03-27)

He wishes he were us now.
Conan O’Brien, Late Night with Conan O’Brien (2000-02-15)

Apartment Sen. William Lambeth II presented a bill that the SGA request the university add the official abbreviation of campus buildings – what students see in the timetable – to each building sign.
“Useless bills”, lead editorial in The Daily Beacon (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) (2000-01-27)
[Note that “request the university add” also is an instance of the mandative subjunctive.]

Mendoza called the junta’s action an effort to “prevent a bloodbath” amid the Indians’ revolt and asked that the military officers who backed the uprising not be punished.
“Vice president takes over power in Ecuador”, article on cnn.com (2000-01-22)

It is extremely urgent that we talk with you right now, sir.
From the series “The X-Files” (US television) (2000-01-16)

The court blocked an Immigration and Naturalization Service order that the boy be returned to his father in Cuba.
News reader, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (2000-01-10)

But if you were a scientist, I think you should ask yourself the same question.
Marilyn vos Savant, “Ask Marilyn” (weekly column), Parade Magazine (2000-01-09)
[Emphasis on “were” added by vos Savant.]

It’s essential that my kids pitch in.
Marie Osmond, quoted in “Life is a matter of choices”, Parade Magazine (2000-01-09)

According to a separate lawsuit, another Nichiei employee demanded a debtor sell his daughter into prostitution.
— —
Twenty-eight of Warsaw(Poland)’s 42 prime-location restrooms were leased in early 1999 to private companies on the condition that they renovate and maintain the toilets.
— —
A group of Albanians demanded that the U.N. Mission in Kosovo put its mascot stray dog, Unmik, to sleep because he is “Serbian”.
Chuck Shepherd, “News of the weird” (weekly syndicated column), Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tennessee), p. 35 (2000-01-06)

Installing the server requires that an intruder first compromise a machine by different means.
CERT Advisory CA-99-17 Denial-of-Service Tools (1999-12-28) <http://www.cert.org/advisories/CA-99-17-denial-of-service-tools.html>

YTcracker, a 17-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., said he routinely sends messages to government Web site administrators insisting that they address vulnerabilities and adopt Unix or other more secure systems, but the messages largely go ignored.
“Feds leave doors open for hackers”, article on cnn.com (1999-12-22)

The deal requires that teachers join the union.
Claudio Sanchez (correspondent), All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-12-20)

My holiday wish is that nobody go to Lou’s Burritos.
Conan O’Brien, Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1999-12)

It is very important that the charge nurse and the attending physician work together throughout the shift.
Unknown (interview), “On the Inside”, on The Discovery Channel (US television) (1999-12-01)

I was going to request that they [television sets] be turned down.
Conversation with Allison Miller (1999-12-01)

I requested that I stay near Knoxville.
Conversation with Allison Miller (1999-12-01)

At that time, he also set these parameters: that the obverse design be of one or more women, that it not depict a living person, and that the design maintain a dignity befitting the nation’s coinage.
The Golden Dollar Coin: Frequently Asked Questions, on-line document from the U.S. Mint (www.usmint.gov) (1999-11-24)

I would respectfully suggest that you keep to your cabin.
From the miniseries Horatio Hornblower, episode “The Duchess and the Devil” (US television) (1999)

She said company lawyers also have demanded the Web site be transferred to their authority.
Associated Press, printed in The News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee), p. D4 (1999-11-21)

I took all of the necessary information, but because of her attitude I did not insist that we call for a police officer.
Letter to the syndicated column Smart Money, printed in The News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee), p. D2 (1999-11-21)

The car is programmed to respond sluggishly, the way it might if the driver were indeed intoxicated.
Newscaster, WBIR-TV (Knoxville, Tennessee) (1999-11-20)

Albright was an attorney, but more importantly, he was a conservationist, and a man who advocated that national parks be spread all across the county to preserve and interpret natural and cultural features and serve people.
Coggins A (1999). Place Names of the Smokies, ISBN 0-937207-23-3, p. 23.

To deal with these problems of redundant and dual place names, the National Park Service and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names requested that a nomenclature committee be established in each state.
Coggins A (1999). Place Names of the Smokies, ISBN 0-937207-23-3, p. 13.

But if it weren’t so big, it wouldn’t be nearly so fun.
Commentator, ESPN (US television) (1999-11-20)

I was going to recommend that you buy a second-hand pickup truck, a beater.
Click (or Clack), Car Talk, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-11-20)

However, for your safety, we do require that you keep your seat belt fastened at all times while seated.
Flight attendant, Delta Airlines (1999-11-19)

I think it is very critical that Bill Bradley address those issues which politicians have avoided.
Unknown (interview), Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-11-15)

But Parks, upset over the group’s “vulgarity and profanity,” is suing for $25,000 and has asked that her name be removed from all OutKast products.
“Rosa Parks sues OutKast”, article on cnn.com (1999-11-05)

Husbands, especially if there were a lot of property involved, needed to know that their heirs were legitimate.
Unknown (interview), “The History of Sex”, on The History Channel (US television) (1999-11-03)

Hadrian decreed that a new temple be built in the honor of Jupiter.
Unknown (interview), “The Great Empire: Rome”, on The History Channel (US television) (1999-11-03)

The FAA has since mandated that [this early-warning radar system] never be disabled. [approximate quotation]
Correspondent, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-11-02)

However this plays in Knoxville, it seems calculated to play well in Nashville where additional state funding is essential lest the name of the game at UT become Stop the Music.
Joe Sullivan, Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tennessee), p. 4 (1999-10-28).

Well, she has said that the top priority of the tribunal is that Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and that the Bosnian Serb leaders [names unspellable] be arrested and brought to the Hague.
Sylvia Poggioli, Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-10-27)

I just wish it were easier to use !
Clorox advertisement (US television) (1999-10-26)
[Why cannot Toyota and Kodak follow Clorox's example ? See below.]

I am rather anxious that she discuss this with me soon.
Conversation (1999-10-25)

That would have been a huge win, if they were able to pull it off.
Commentator, ESPN (US television) (1999-10-23)
[Compare the common usage, “if they had been able”.]

It is important that he tell the truth now, lest he be doubted later.
Conversation (1999-10-19)

It is imperative that we eat soon.
Conversation with Allison Miller (1999-10-16)

The ability to find loopholes in a system, be they mathematical, systematical, or procedural, is vital to a cryptographer.
Bruce Schneier, “CRYPTO-GRAM” (monthly email newsletter) (1999-10-15)

We would prefer, I’m sure, some form of representative government be installed in the next couple of days.
Howard Schaffer of Georgetown University, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-10-13)

Political correctness is a threat to free speech because special interest groups are not content just to put forth their views, but demand that the opposing view be silenced.
John Sopinka, Canadian Supreme Court Justice, cited on WWW (1999-10-13)

If modern business people weren’t able to hold a drink, grab a bite, shake hands and extract a business card all at the same time, the commercial world would grind to a halt.
Judith Martin, Miss Manners column (1999-10-10)

A sniper would be almost immediately killed if he were captured.
Unknown (interview), “Suicide Missions: Sniper”, on The History Channel (US television) (1999-10-05)

Any transform, be it monotonic or nonmonotonic, of a Fourier-transform surrogate should be [temporally] reversible.
Conversation (1999-10-05)

I was suggesting that we sit down for a while and discuss this.
Conversation (1999-10-05)

My concern is that we make sure we’re consistent, so that we can use each other’s libraries.
Conversation (1999-10-05)

Arafat asked that Palestinian police chief Ghazi Jabali be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank town of Ramallah to attend his father’s funeral.
Linda Gradstein, Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-10-04)

It was very critical that everything be done on time.
Tour guide, Biltmore House and Gardens, Asheville, North Carolina (1999-09-30)

Custom dictates that the prize date be announced just days in advance.
“Early Nobel announcement prompts speculation”, article on cnn.com (1999-09-29)

For our sorority fundraiser, I proposed that we run a series of sports betting pools.
Conversation (1999-09-29)

The group with the most votes, whether it be the university community or health care professionals, will win.
“Right to vote”, lead editorial in The Daily Beacon (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) (1999-09-29)
[Next lesson: hyphenation of compound modifiers (health-care professionals)]

Giuliani demanded the Brooklyn Museum cancel the exhibition; the museum refused.
Brooke Gladstone, Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-09-29)

It is imperative that we keep this confidential.
From the movie, Highway 9

But director John Tiernan insisted that she lose her pleasing personality and get more in touch with her sensuality.
People, p. 105. (1999-09-13)

… he also suggested to the board that a business manager be hired to help things run more smoothly.
Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tennessee), p. 7 (1999-09-02).

It turns out that thermoneutral … is 84 degrees [Fahrenheit], but that’s if you’re naked. So if we lived in a society where everyone was naked, or everyone were naked, perhaps I should say, then 84 degrees would be our chosen temperature for at least sitting around inside an office.
Joe Palca, Morning Edition, National Public Radio (USA) (1999-07-07)
[He falsely corrected himself, thinking of the subjunctive hypothetical phrase earlier in the sentence. Radio talk often precludes real-time correction. “If we lived (but we don't)” is in the subjunctive; he probably was thinking “If everyone were naked (but they're not)”.]

It is very crucial that we make it successful.
Co-owner and Tea Taster, Charleston Tea Plantation, CNN Headline News (1999-04-24)

Were I he, …
Overheard (1999-01-28)
[Bless you, sir ! This is much better than, “If I was him, ...”]

God help our country’s future if we decide otherwise.
Manager Rogan in the trial of President William Jefferson Clinton (1999-01-08?)

God save freshmeat and Linus.
Comment on freshmeat.net (1999-01-02)

It was at about this time that there came the first indication that it might be better if Doctor Minor now be allowed to return to the United States, to spend his declining years – as he did seem to be in decline – close to his family.
Winchester S (1998). The Professor and the Madman, ISBN 0-06-017596-6, p. 185.

He wants, but knows that he can never demand, that praise be showered on him.
Winchester S (1998). The Professor and the Madman, ISBN 0-06-017596-6, p. 156.

There was a man in there who knew exactly what he wanted, and I found myself wishing I were as lucky as he.
From the movie, You’ve Got Mail (1998)

It is critical that I see them.
From the movie, Sphere (1998)

Both bones were porous, as if the virus or causative organism were consuming them.
From the movie, X-Files (1998)

I’m going to ask you a question, and it is absolutely imperative that you tell the truth.
From the movie, Enemy of the State (1998)

I demand you release him now.
If he didn’t buy a bushel of vegetables each week, I’d spit on him.
I insist you return my things to me at once.
Then I suggest that you run.
The King demanded that you arrive in style.
All I ask Your Majesties is that you show her the same courtesies as she has bestowed on me.
From the movie, Ever After (1998)

It is also necessary that a test statistic not be invariant with respect to a given hypotheses [sic].
Small M, Judd K (1998). “Detecting nonlinearity in experimental data”, International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos 8, p. 1234.

When we get back to London, you’ll be paid in full, provided we have favorable opinion.
Inspector, if it weren’t absolutely genuine, then why would they steal it ?
From the movie, Incognito (1997)

If I were a fascist, then I would have sent you to one of those Southern military academies a long time ago.
From the movie, Ice Storm (1997)

That’s why it is important that this be done today.
From the movie, The Eighteenth Angel (1997)

I would recommend that you release him immediately.
From the movie, Twist of Fate (1997)

In fact, it is essential that you experience pleasure.
From the movie, Wildly Available (1996)

Junior’s inheritance is based on the provision that he divorce that [censored] Irene.
From the movie, The Naked Detective (1996)

I simply requested, politely, that she refrain from spying on my family.
From the movie, Last of the High Kings (1996)

In order to control intersymbol interference, it is desirable that 1’s not be too close together, or equivalently that runs of 0’s not be too short.
Marcus B (1995). “Symbolic dynamics and coding applications”, Plenary Lecture at the 1995 IEEE International Symposium on Information Theory.

God rot all royals – give us the wisdom of America.
From the movie, The Madness of King George (1994)

I wish this [censored] night were over.
From the movie, Schindler’s List (1993)

An important requirement for equilibrium is that the temperature be uniform throughout the system or each part of the system in contact. If this condition were not met, spontaneous heat transfer from one location to another could occur while the system is isolated.
Moran MJ, Shapiro HN (1992). Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics (2nd edition), ISBN 0-471-57117-2, p. 656.

If the heat release were spatially and temporally distributed, not much return would be expected to the acoustic field.
Yu KH, Trouvé A, Daily JW (1991). “Low-frequency pressure oscillations in a model ramjet combustor”, Journal of Fluid Mechanics 232, p. 49.

Tell me, Stuart, lest your children be born slugs of cold flesh.
From the movie, Warlock (1989)
[One of my favorite quotations!]

If he knew the mountains, he would go alone. He doesn’t, so he needs a guide.
From the movie, Shoot to Kill (1988)

I suggest we open out orders, Captain.
I must emphasize the extreme sensitivity of this information and that it not leave this room.
Prudence demands that we deploy our ships to watch yours.
Negative. Fuel status says we turn around now.
From the movie, The Hunt for Red October (1987)

God guide your decision.
From the movie, The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

What if I granted you a kingdom?
From the movie, Flash Gordon (1980)

If there were any other purpose to what we were doing, only the orca knew it.
From the movie, Orca (1977)

A sufficient condition, familiar from the calculus, is that L be concave in theta.
Bickel PJ, Doksum KA (1977). Mathematical Statistics, ISBN 0-13-564147-0, p. 102.

If that were for real, how big would that measure ?
From the movie, King Kong (1975)

If possible, I’d prefer the Gestapo be kept out of these matters.
From the movie, Where Eagles Dare (1969)

You went so far as to argue that the colony be abolished.
I respectfully submit that you order that man to step aside.
I wish I were back in England.
From the series (US television) “Wild, Wild West” (1965-1969)

I will be under oath, and I might have to tell them that it was I who found LeBeau and it was I who told you how to smoke him out, unless, unless LeBeau were released from the cooler.
From the series (US television) “Hogan’s Heroes” (1965-1971)

What would happen if somebody were to blow up that bridge?
From the movie, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Didn’t you see the directive that all personnel be clean-shaven, Commander Eddington ?
From the movie, In Harm’s Way (1965)

Mister Preseident, under Condition Red, it is standard procedure that the base be sealed off from outside contact.
From the movie, Dr. Strangelove (1964)

It is as though you had become Messala.
If you were not a bride, I would kiss you goodbye. If I were not a bride, there would be no goodbyes to be said.
From the movie, Ben-Hur (1959)

Don’t look at me as if I were crazy!
From the movie, The Caine Mutiny (1954)

If only I were a man for one short hour.
I would she were.
From the movie, Ivanhoe (1952)

Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown.
From the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, sung by Mario Lanza, BMG Classics 60720-2-RG (RCA Victor) (album released 1991; recorded 1950s).

If this be madness, then call it madness …
From the song, “Beloved”, sung by Mario Lanza, RCA Camden Classics CAD1-450 (album released 1987; recorded 1950s).

–How about a bazooka ?
If we had one.
From the movie, Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
[This is a classic example: If we had a bazooka (but I don't think we do), then we would use it. If we have a bazooka (conditional statement), then we will use it.]

… in general, this has a negligible effect on the correlogram, but if the grouping be very drastic, it is possible to introduce corrections analogous to Sheppard’s corrections …
Cunningham LBC, Hynd WRB (1946). Discussion to “Symposium on autocorrelation in time series”, Supplement to the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 8, p. 97.

I wish I didn’t love you so much.
From the movie, Casablanca (1942)

I feel about Wilmer here as if he were my own son.
From the movie, The Maltese Falcon (1941)

If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.
From the movie, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.
That is what I’d really like to be.
‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
everyone would be in love with me.
Advertisement (1930s)

The sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.
Mr. Justice Wills, pronouncing sentence on Oscar Wilde (1895-05-25)

If it be, why seems it so particular with thee? (I:2)
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou comest us such a questionable shape that I will speak to thee … (I:4)
… now or whensoever, provided I be so able as now. (V:2)
William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (xxxx)

Where is the subjunctive ?

Yeah, but they wouldn’t find the body if there was nothing left to find.
From the movie, Stranger Than Fiction (1999)

If only everything was as dependable as a Chevy.
Chevrolet advertisement (US television) (2000-05-29)
[Note the shameless takeoff of the Toyota tagline (below).]

It would be ironic if this was the team [to get that done].
Commentator, ESPN (US television) (1999-11-20)

Such information could be vital if an asteroid was on a collision course with earth, although the main purpose of the exercise is to help solve the age-old puzzle of how planets are formed.
“Theory: Some asteroids may be like celestial sponges”, article by Reuters on cnn.com (1999-11-11)

Imagine the heads the student body would turn if the SGA was able to turn in 15,000 applications for voter registration.
“Right to vote”, lead editorial in The Daily Beacon (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) (1999-09-29)

Wish food was here.
Kodak advertisement (US television) (1999-09-09)

If it was me, …

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