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Stacy Christiansen


Verbs may have 1 of 3 moods: (1) the indicative (the most common; used for ordinary objective statements), (2) the imperative (used for requesting or commanding), and (3) the subjunctive.

Subjunctive verbs cause the most difficulty; they are used primarily for expressing a wish (I wish it were possible), a supposition (If I were to accept the position… ), or a condition that is uncertain or contrary to fact (If that were true… ; If I were younger… ). The subjunctive occurs in fairly formal situations and usually involves past (were) or present (be) forms.

Past form:

If we were to begin treatment immediately, the patient’s prognosis would be excellent.

Present form:

The patient insisted that she be treated immediately.

The subjunctive is sometimes used incorrectly, eg, where matters of fact—not supposition—are discussed. In the following examples, the indicative, not the subjunctive, is correct.

Therefore, we determined whether there had been [not the subjunctive, were] deviation from the prescribed regimen.

We investigated whether the fracture had been [not the subjunctive, were] set incorrectly.

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