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Get Your Grammar Fix(ed): What Kind of Mood Are You In, Verb?

Today, we're going to focus on the many moods of a verb

No, I don't mean that verbs wake up cranky or get all huffy when someone criticizes them. The moods of a verb are MUCH easier to deal with than the moods of a woman. 

(Men, no snarky comments. I know whereof I speak...I am woman. Plus, you don't know my current mood since I'm behind the screen. Just tread respectfully, is all I'm sayin'.)

*singsong* Anyhoo, remember this? 

Every verb has four attributes: person, number, voice, and mood. 

There are two easy-peasy moods: indicative and imperative.

Indicative: most sentences fall under this heading. These babies deal with the facts. 

Memory trick: A defendant cannot be indicted without facts

Declarative: I am so weak, I need to sit down. 
Interrogative: How tired are you?
Exclamatory: It's awful! My muscles are trembling!

Imperative: a parent's best friend. These are commands, be they stern or polite. Memory trick: It is imperative that you follow these directions. 

Go back to bed! 
Please don't interrupt.
Let go of my legs.

No sweat, right?

It's the subjunctive that gets under people's skin. The subjunctive mood is saved for hypothetical situations, what ifs, and wishes. 

It's the mood of possibility.

If I could erase that conversation, I would
Would you like a cup of tea?
He might win the contest. 

Often in English, as above, the subjunctive mood requires the "possible" helping verbs: would, could, should, may, might. In other languages, it's easier to spot the subjunctive, because the entire verb looks different, and we include the helping verb when we translate. 

It might look like it doesn't matter in English, but it does. Though the verb doesn't appear to change, the mood does. We need to know when and why it happens in order to use the moods correctly.

Some sentences use both the subjunctive and another mood. Let's pull that sentence out of the paragraph above and inspect it.

It might look like it doesn't matter in English, but it does. 

The first clause is subjunctive: It might look like it doesn't matter...

The second clause is indicative--stating a fact. ...but it does.

Or this: 

If you want to go outside (subjunctive), get your work done (imperative).

Now, for the tricksy question: What about first person, past tense? When is it correct to say, "If I was," and when should we say "If I were"?

If you've been paying attention (subjunctive), you'll see the difference clearly (indicative).

Use "if I was" when you are talking about a factual situation.

If I was disruptive when I got up to leave early, I'm sorry.

Use "if I were" when you're using your imagination.

If I were in a quiet cabin in the mountains, I would get more writing done.

It's as simple as that.

Now, if I were (subjunctive) to tell you that A.J. Hawke won (indicative) the gift card for last week's creative sentences in the active and passive voice, who would offer (subjunctive) congratulations?

Yay! Congratulations, A.J.!

Your stream-of-thought sentences made us laugh. Contact us at to claim your prize (imperative)!

This week, head down to the comments and practice "If I was..." and "If I were..."! Thanks for swinging by.

Thanks to sethoscope for the image.  


  1. Enjoying these.....helpful in my English class!
    "If I was an impatient mom, I'm sorry; but if I were to get another chance, I'd try to practice more temperance. Proud of you two!

    1. Noanie, you are the sweetest mama EVER. If I could do it all again, I'd leave YOU the same and I wouldn't be so snarky. :) Glad this is helpful.

  2. Love it! Just have one question. I thought a subordinate clause couldn't stand on its own because it couldn't be a complete sentence, but in your example "It does" could be a complete sentence, albeit a succinct and somewhat vague one. Help me understand what makes a subordinate clause not 'stand on its own.' If I was impertinent, please forgive. (See, I would see 'please forgive' as a subordinate clause.) If I were able to provide another example, I would. :-)

    1. Felicia! You caught me! THANK you. :) The second clause can stand on its own. It now reads, "The first clause..." and "The second clause...."

      An independent clause can stand on its own; a subordinate clause cannot. It is the conjunction or the relative pronoun that makes the difference. I'll do my next post on this, because the conjunctions are the key.

      In your example, though, "Please forgive" is not a subordinate clause either. It's a polite imperative, and its subject is simply not visible.

      (You) please forgive.

      Thanks for the great catch. Blessings!


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