Verb Mood in English Grammar

In English grammar, a sentence’s “mood” indicates the author’s (or speaker’s) attitude about a sentence’s factuality, veracity, and certainty. English has five moods. The most commonly used mood is the declarative mood (also known as “indicative mood”). The declarative mood is used to state a fact.


Patients who are involved in their health care have better outcomes.

In formal scientific writing, another important mood is the subjunctive mood.

Although less common than the declarative mood, the subjunctive mood has important uses—for example, in stating hypothetical conditions, implications, and recommendations. The subjunctive mood is also used to describe conditions that are unlikely or nonfactual.

NOTE: In formal writing, a special subject–verb agreement rule applies to the use of the subjunctive mood. See my blog “Subject–Verb Agreement, Rule 21: Verbs in the Subjective Mood)

Following are examples of sentences in subjunctive mood.

Hypothetical conditions

Instances of the subjunctive mood often appear in a clause that begins with the word if.


If patients were able to access the clinic schedule online, wait times would be shorter.

If pre-exposure prophylaxis were broadly used, this use might result in inadvertent exposure to suboptimal antiretroviral regimens.

If this prevalence rate were transferable to Kuala Lampur, the number of caregivers in that city would be ample.

Both bones were porous, as if a virus or causative organism were consuming them.

If it were not for other staffing demands, the clinic’s target would have been achieved.

If this condition were not met, spontaneous heat transfer from one location to another could occur while the system is isolated.

If the ventilation were spatially distributed, inadequate return would be anticipated.



It is critical that the procedures be conducted in a timely fashion.

It is essential that the charge nurse and the attending physician work collaboratively throughout the shift.

NOTE: In formal writing, avoid the use of the weak introducing expletives “it is,” “there is,” and “there are” in all verb tenses.  For example, the following

It is important that PAR levels be maintained.

might be better written as

PAR levels must be maintained. [declarative]

Demand, necessity, requirement


Community residents are adamant that the hospital not close.

Twenty-eight contracts were awarded to private companies on the condition that they renovate and maintain their respective care facilities.

Skilled nursing facility patients have demanded that menus be improved.

Hospital administrators issued a directive that all personnel be competent in the new safety procedure.

North Carolina became the first state to mandate that its Department of Health and Human Services collect such data.

Under those conditions, standard procedure necessitate that the facility be sealed off from outside contact.

An important requirement for equilibrium is that the temperature be uniform throughout the system.

To advise, advocate, propose, recommend, and suggest


Current guidelines advise that the unit release such patients 2 days after admission.

We can advocate that resources be used effectively.

The board recommended that the motion be passed and implemented immediately.

The patient’s care team suggests she remain in the program for another 2 months.

To express desires, goal and objective, intention, preference, and wish


Clinic staff was determined that the documentary film be authentic.

The goal of the initiative is that the community be well informed.

We would prefer that a monitoring system be installed in the near future.

Had the intervention failed, we would have urged that impinging barriers be resolved.

Respondents stated a wish that the equipment were still in use.

Study participants indicated that they wished they were provided with more opportunities for professional development.

NOTE: The declarative mood can be used after an “if”-clause to suggest that a possibility is plausible.

To describe conditions that are unlikely or nonfactual


If this population were not adaptable, it could not surmount barriers to care.

Notice that in the preceding sentence, the subjunctive mood is expressed through the use of a singular subject, “population,” and a plural verb, “were.”

The Subjunctive with Present Tense–Third Person Singular

The subjunctive for the present tense third-person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else.


The investigators proposed that the clinic offer patient education classes.

The Subjunctive with TO BE

The subjunctive mood of the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is.


If clinical guidelines are based only on published literature, they might overestimate benefits and underestimate harms of a drug.


If clinical guidelines were based only on published literature, they might overestimate benefits and underestimate harms of a drug.

Subjunctive Using “Might” or “May”

Either the subjunctive or the indicative can appear after phrases or clauses including “might” and “may.”


Patients’ response rate is better if they are sent reminder text messages.

The sentence above indicates a real possibility that he is building his house on Interstate-40, and thus a car very likely will crash into it. Thus, it is indicative about reality.


Patients’ response rate might be better if they were sent reminder text messages.

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