Literary Stylistics Notes:
Additional Notes for Lectures 7 & 8

Additional Notes to 7 & 8 on:
The Subjunctive

What's on this page:
Introduction; Mandative Subjunctive; Formulaic Subjunctive; Subjunctive 'Were'; Electronic Bibliographical Note.

As you may know, the so-called subjunctive mood may signify a desire, wish, supposition, or description of a hypothetical situation, or, it may survive as part of a fossilised grammatical construction. Although not dealt with in Halliday's Introduction, this mood is sometimes touched on in other grammar textbooks. As it may be useful for your analysis, you may want to refer to the following notes, which is taken, with some changes, from Randolph Quirk & Sidney Greenbaum's A University Grammar of English (London: Longman, 1973), pp. 51-2)


According to Quirk and Greenbaum, three categories of the subjunctive may be distinguished:

(a) The MANDATIVE SUBJUNCTIVE occurs in some types of that-subordinate clauses where there is a lack of the regular indicative concord between subject and finite verb in the 3rd person singular present, and the present and past tenses are indistinguishable. This type of subjunctive can be used with any verb in subordinate that-clauses when the main clause contains an expression of recommendation, resolution, demand, and so on (We demand, require, move, insist, suggest, ask, etc that. . .). The use of this type of subjunctive occurs chiefly in formal contexts style (and chiefly in American English) where in less formal contexts one would rather make use of other devices, such as to-infinitive or should+infinitive:

It is imperative that every player be familiar with the rules of the game
It is imperative that every player should be familiar with the rules of the game
It is necessary for every player to be familiar with the rules of the game

(b)The FORMULAIC SUBJUNCTIVE involves clauses in certain set expressions where again, there is a lack of the regular indicative concord between subject and finite verb. The following examples, which should be familiar to all of you, are given by Quirk and Greenbaum:

Come what may, we will go ahead
God save the Queen!
Suffice it to say that. . .
Be that as it may. . .
Heaven forbid that. . .

(c) The SUBJUNCTIVE were is hypothetical in meaning and is used in conditional and concessive clauses and in subordinate clauses after verbs like wish. It occurs as the 1st and 3rd person singular past of the verb be, matching the indicative was, which is the more common in less formal style:
If I { were } to be there, . . .
The teacher spoke to the student as if he { were } stupid
He wishes he { were } a rich man


Electronic Bibliographical Note

You may also want to take a look at the entry on subjunctives in Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes, and the short document mentioned in the previous lecture, Verbs: Voice and Mood, produced by the On-Line Writing Lab of Purdue University.


Last1 revised:  17 May 2017
Ismail S Talib 1996-2017.