I know how to use the subjunctive well, I would say, by most peoples' standards. However, I am at a loss when I encounter this particular phrase: "I didn't think she was going." Does the "I didn't think" trigger the subjunctive? Should it read, "I didn't think she were going" ? I know in the Romance languages the subjunctive is appropriate here. Thanks for your help,

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"I didn't think she was going" is correct because it is not an example of the subjunctive mood in English.

The subjunctive mood is used when the sentence expresses a thought contrary to reality.

"If I were king..." (I'm not the king.)

"If I were you..." (I'm not you.)

The sentence "I didn't think she was going." does not express an idea that is contrary to reality. It's (presumably) true that you didn't think she was going.

I think I got this right.

We use "think" in the past simple or past perfect tense to indicate a belief that was previously held but that has been shown to be incorrect. For example:

I didn't think she was going. (past simple)
I had thought that she wasn't going. (past perfect)

The exception is in converting from direct to reported speech:

"I think he's a terrible teacher," she said. (direct speech)
She said that she thought he was a terrible teacher. (reported speech)

In the above, her opinion has not changed. The verb "think" is used in the past tense because we customarily switch from present simple to past simple when changing from direct speech to reported speech.

The subjunctive mood is used to express a wish or to describe a condition that is contrary to fact. The verb form is the same as the indicative mood except that the form of the verb "be" is "were" for all persons. (The indicative mood is that used to make a statement or ask a question. The vast majority of English sentences are in the indicative mood.).

When you say, "I didn't think she was going," you are not using the subjunctive mood. You are not expressing something that is contrary to fact. You are making a factual statement using the indicative mood. The "fact" you are mentioning is your previously-held belief that she would not go. The reason for using "think" in the past tense is that new information has since come to light (i.e. that she is, after all, going).
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I'm sorry, but aren't you guys talking about the conditional, not the subjunctive. I thought that the subjunctive was a formal way of speaking:

>> We recommend that all staff acknowledge receipt of this memo.

>> They insisted that we go with them.

>> It is vital that children remain in the school grounds until their parents arrive.

The conditional expresses a wish or condition that is contrary to fact, as described above. In some cases the conditional is also a form of the subjunctive:

>> He wishes he were here with you.

And, as to the original posting, i think to 'subjunctify' it, you would say:

>>I did not think that she would go.

Does anyone agree, or am I totally off the mark?
Please have a look at the 8th post in this thread for the difference between the subjunctive mood and conditional constructions:


I'll write more later if I have time.

I've posted this in another thread:
would + base form of verb = simple conditional (would go)
would + have + past participle = perfect conditional (would have gone)

Both are usually seen in conditional sentences Types II and III.
Type II: "If it started to rain now, I would stay at home."
Type III: "If it had rained yesterday, I would have stayed at home."

In both types of conditional sentences, the conditionals appear in the main clause, and the "if" clause (or conditional clause) takes a verb either in the simple past or the past perfect. Now, I've used the names of these two tenses only to indicate the form the verb takes, not to indicate meaning.
Thse verbs in the conditional form are called instances of the "unmarked" subjunctive mood in English. Why? Because the meaning is that of the subjunctive mood, yet the form has been "borrowed" from tenses of the indicative mood. The context in which the sentences are used indicate the subjunctive mood, not the verb forms themselves.

So, conditional sentences Types II and II take a conditional verb in the main clause and a verb that conveys subjunctive meaning in the conditional clause.

This unmarked subjunctive is not, however, the only form the subjunctive may take in English.

As verbalicious said, the following are examples of the subjunctive mood.
Some authors call it "present subjunctive"; others "mandative subjunctive":
>> "We recommend that all staff acknowledge receipt of this memo."
>> "They insisted that we go with them."
>> "It is vital that children remain in the school grounds until their parents arrive."

This "mandative subjunctive" has only one form, the base verb, so there is no concord between subject and finite verb in the 3rd person singular present. The mandative subjunctive is used in that-clauses when the main clauses contain an expression of recommendation, resolution, demand, uncertainty, etc. verbs such as wish, demand, order, suggest, propose, recommend, urge, insist are used. The use of this subjunctive occurs mainly in formal style, whereas in less formal contexts one would rather make use of other devices, such as the to-infinitive or should+infinitive.

I said this subjunctive uses only the "base form" of a verb so, if we changed the subjects in the above examples to "he" or "she", the form of the verbs would not change:
>> "We recommend that he acknowledge receipt of this memo."
>> "They insisted that she go with them."
>> "It is vital that the boy remain in the school grounds until his parents arrive."
Notice that the verbs acknowledge, go and remain don't take the "s" in the examples.

Sentences like:
"It is necessary that he be here on time tomorrow" (subjunctive)
are usually replaced by less formal constructions and retain their original meaning:
"It is necessary that he should be here on time tomorrow."
"It is necessary for him to be here on time tomorrow."

Verbalicious also said:
"The conditional expresses a wish or condition that is contrary to fact, as described above. In some cases the conditional is also a form of the subjunctive:
>> He wishes he were here with you."

Unfortunately, there is no condition or conditional form in the above sentence. It is an example of the subjunctive, a subjunctive of a different type from the "mandatory". Some authors call this type "were subjunctive", others "past subjunctive". It is hypothetical in meaning and is used in conditional (type II) and concessive sentences and in subordinate clauses after verbs like 'wish'. For the verb 'to be', the form is 'were' for all persons. The use of 'was' in the 1st and 3rd singular is sometimes used in very informal style, and itmay be frowned upon in formal situations. This subjunctive is usually concerned with present time.
The example verbalicious posted corresponds to "subordinate clauses after verbs like 'wish'".

Here are other examples:
"I would visit him if he were lonely."
"He looked at me as if I were a monster."
"Suppose (that) I had a million pounds."
"It's (high/about) time you came."
"I'd rather (that) you told him."

Verbalicious also wrote:
And, as to the original posting, I think to 'subjunctify' it, you would say:
>>I did not think that she would go.
Does anyone agree, or am I totally off the mark."

There is no subjunctive in that sentence, only the simple conditional is used in the dependent clause. The meaning is similar to "I didn't think she was going".
And the sentence does not mean that she did go in the end. It is also possible that she didn't go. Like many sentences, it depends on the context in which it is used.

There is yet another type of subjunctive in English, called "formulaic subjunctive", which also consists only of the base verb but is only used in certain set expressions that have to be learned as wholes:
"God save the Queen!"
"Bless you!"
"Heaven help us!"
"Long live the king!"

I hope this helps.

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I had never really understood the subjunctive until I read this. Great post, Miriam.

By the way, some people seem to refer to the subjunctive as being "rarely used" in English. Yet from reading the above, it is clearly used all the time. I also remember reading somewhere (I can't remember where - on the Internet, I think) that the English language doesn't have a "true" subjunctive. Is there some sort of debate regarding the subjunctive? Why is it such a poorly-taught and poorly-understood area of English grammar?
Thank you, Dave.

I'm not sure I know the right answers to all your questions, but I'll try.

I wouldn't say that the English language does not have a "true" subjunctive mood. Perhaps it's only that it is not so 'developed', so to speak, as, say, the indicative mood, in the sense that it does not have its own verb forms. That's why the subjunctive 'borrows' froms from indicative verb tenses and also why subjunctive meaning is conveyed by means of the use of other structures (such as "should" and the "to-infinitive"). This is a personal opinion, but I don't think that means it is not a "true" subjunctive.
What I don't know is why the subjunctive forms (the "marked" subjunctive) are considered so formal. It must be true, though, because you won't come across what I referred to as the "mandative" subjunctive very often in everyday conversation.

I agree that, at least in my country, the subjunctive is poorly-taught. I think that is so because, to begin with, even some teachers don't seem to understand it very well. What I can tell you again, this happens in my country is that the different forms and structures of the subjunctive are very rarely taught together. That, in my opinion, is what makes it difficult to understand. The forms used are very diverse, and when they are taught separately, it seems to be difficult for students to put them all together in their minds and think of all the possible forms as being constituent parts of the same "mood".

In Spanish, we have a subjunctive mood with its six own tenses. One would think that's great, but I can tell you it doesn't seem to help much, in many cases. Native speakers of Spanish once more, Argentinian speakers have huge problems with both the subjunctive mood and the conditionals tenses. You'll often hear educated people use the wrong forms. You will hear writers, journalists, reporters... and even teachers and translators (!!) use them wrongly. I have no idea what the reason for that is. But I'm sure it doesn't help when trying to teach it or learn it in English. If you don't grasp a certain concept in your own language, it will be probably even more difficult, if not impossible, to understand it in a foreign language.

A very very common (and huge) mistake among Spanish-speakers is the confusion with tenses in conditional sentences. Here. you'll often hear people say things like (I'm tryping here the English "equivalent" of what they say in Spanish):
"If I would have time, I would help you." (this is, of course, is wrong)
They will use the conditional in both clauses of conditional tenses, which doesn't make any sense whatsoever. So, as you can see, there seems to be a problem with the subjunctive in spanish too. It's certainly curious.

It would be great to have enough time and knowledge to do research and try to find the origins of, and the reasons for, these mistakes.

Could you tell me the differences here?

Are you going out later?
(1) Yeah, if I go out, I'll close the window.
(2) Yeah, when I go out, I'll cloase the window.

For the first sentence, I would say it is possible that I will go out, but I'm not sure.(Fifth-fifty)
For the second one, I think the possibility of going out is more than fifty percent. But then is it one kind of zero condition?

Am I wrong?
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