Subjunctive Verb

This article explains the correct usage of Subjunctive Verb, a topic tested on GMAT SC, while also highlighting its common incorrect usage.

The subjunctive verb is used primarily in two situations: to express hypothetical situations AND to express some form of commands.

Hypothetical Scenarios

Let’s look at this sentence:

I wish I was the president of India.

Is this sentence correct?

The answer is NO.

Why?

Because to talk about hypotheticals, we need to use past subjunctive form of the verb. The past subjunctive form of “be” is “were”, not “was”.

For all other verbs, the past subjunctive form is same as the simple past form. In a way, you can say that we use “simple past” to express hypothetical scenarios, with an exception that we use “were” instead of “was”.

The below two sentences are correct:

  • I wish I were the president of India.
  • I wish India won the match.

And the below two sentences are incorrect:

  • I wish India will win the match. (simple future tense doesn’t go with a hypothetical scenario; need to use “won” instead of “will win”)
  • I wish he comes home on time. (simple present tense doesn’t go with a hypothetical scenario; need to use “came”)

If then – Hypothetical Scenario

We also express hypothetical scenarios in the “If Then” structure. In such a case, we use the past subjunctive form of the verb in the “If” part, and “would+ base form of verb” in the “Then” part. (For simplicity, let’s now call “past subjunctive form” just “simple past form”. It would be easier to understand. Just remember the “were” exception)

The format to express a hypothetical scenario is:

If “SIMPLE PAST”, then “WOULD + BASE VERB”

(We can also have “could” or “might” in place of “would” in the above structure)

For example:

If India won the match, we would celebrate.

This sentence expresses a hypothetical scenario of India winning the match and talks about what would happen then. The sentence indicates that we do not yet know the result of the match and that we are talking about a hypothetical scenario.

Now, since the “If” part contains simple past tense, people generally confuse such hypothetical statements with statements of the past. They interpret the statement as if it were talking about the past.

However, a statement of the past would not have “WOULD + BASE FORM OF VERB” in the “Then” structure. So, you can use it to figure out whether the sentence is talking about past or about a hypothetical event.

For example:

  1. If they met, they studied.
  2. If they met, they would study.

The first statement above is a fact about the past whereas the second statement presents a hypothetical statement in the present.

The first statement means that whenever they met, they studied. It is a fact that was true in the past.

The second statement, on the other hand, talks about a hypothetical scenario. It says if they meet, they will study. However, we are not sure whether they’ll meet.

Now, one may ask this question: What is the difference in the below two statements?

  1. If India wins the match, we will celebrate.
  2. If India won the match, we would celebrate.

In both the sentences, we do not know the result of the match, and we are making statements expressing condition around the result of the match.

Then, what is the difference?

The difference is subtle. The first statement is generally used when there is a realistic chance of India winning the match whereas the second statement is generally used when the chances of India winning the match are slim or absent.

Think about it. It makes sense. You’d want to use hypothetical scenario for a situation that you don’t expect to happen.

If Then – Event that did not happen

Let’s say we want to talk about a hypothetical event in the past, meaning that we want to talk about an event that we now know did not happen.

For example:

Let’s say we know that Jerry did not meet Ria yesterday. Now, we want to talk about a scenario in which they met. How will we talk about it?

If Jerry and Ria HAD MET yesterday, they WOULD HAVE PLAYED together.

The sentence implies that Jerry and Ria did not meet. It talks about an event that did not happen. However, it says what would have happened if the event had happened.

In other words, from the sentence, we know that Jerry and Ria did not meet yesterday. However, the sentence says that if they had met yesterday, they would have played together.

The format to talk about such hypothetical scenarios that did not happen is:

If “HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE FORM OF VERB”, then “WOULD HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE FORM OF VERB”

(We can also have “could” or “might” in place of “would” in the above structure)

Here are a couple of more examples:

  1. If he had drunk a couple of more glasses, he would have zoned out.
  2. If India had not followed license-raj after independence, it would have had a much higher economic growth.

Command Subjunctive and To Verb

There are certain trigger words such as demand, recommend, and mandate that require the use of command (or present) subjunctive verb.

For example:

  1. The boss demanded that the employees be present in office on time.
  2. The officer suggested that Ram drink the coffee.

The command subjunctive form of a verb is same as the base form of the verb.

Please note that the base of the verb is always plural. So, when we use command subjunctive form, we disregard the singularity of the subject and use only the plural (base) form of the verb.

Also, note that the base form of “be” is “be”, not “is” or “are”.

The use of the command subjunctive form follows a fixed format:

TRIGGER WORD + THAT + SUBJECT + COMMAND SUBJUNCTIVE VERB

In the first sentence above, the trigger word is “demand”, and the command subjunctive verb is “be”.

Here are a few incorrect versions of the first sentence:

  1. The boss demanded that the employees are present in office on time.
  2. The boss demanded that the employees will be present in office on time.
  3. The boss demanded that the employees should be present in office on time.

In the sentence “The officer suggested that Ram drink the coffee”, “suggest” is the trigger word and “drink” is the command subjunctive verb.

Here are a few incorrect versions of this sentence:

  1. The officer suggested that Ram drinks the coffee.
  2. The officer suggested that Ram should drink the coffee.
  3. The officer suggested that Ram must drink the coffee.

Here’s a list of trigger words that require command subjunctive verb:

1
At this point, it will be relevant to talk about the words that necessarily require “to+verb”. Thus, command subjunctive form cannot be used with these words. Here are the words that require “to+verb”.

2

Correct Usage:

  1. Ram’s friends advised him to follow his wife’s orders.
  2. The children were allowed to climb the tree.

Incorrect Usage:

  1. Ram’s friends advised him that he follow his wife’s orders. (To + Verb required)
  2. Mary persuaded Tom that he take up a job. (To + Verb required)

There are also words with which both “To + Verb” and command subjunctive verb can be used. Here’s the list of such words:

3

Correct Usage:

  1. The President asked the government to follow the new economic policies.
  2. The President asked that the government follow the new economic policies.

Exception

Well, it is not really an exception even though it may sound like one.

A few triggers words mentioned above may be used in ways other than a “command” form. In such cases, they will not be followed by a command subjunctive verb. For example:

The data suggests that the company will continue to grow.

Here, suggests is not used in a “command” way; it just means “indicates”.

Therefore, as always, it is important to understand the meaning of the sentence to figure out the correct grammar.

Here’s an official question that uses “suggest” in a non-command form:

The rise in the Commerce Department’s index of leading economic indicators suggest that the economy should continue its expansion into the coming months, but that the mixed performance of the index’s individual components indicates that economic growth will proceed at a more moderate pace than in the first quarter of this year.

  1. suggest that the economy should continue its expansion into the coming months, but that
  2. suggest that the economy is to continue expansion in the coming months, but
  3. suggests that the economy will continue its expanding in the coming months, but that
  4. suggests that the economy is continuing to expand into the coming months, but that
  5. suggests that the economy will continue to expand in the coming months, but

The correct option is E. (Please select area after “is” to display the correct option)

 

Official Questions testing Subjunctive Verb

Question 1

The report recommended that the hospital should eliminate unneeded beds, expensive services should be consolidated, and use space in other hospitals.

  1. should eliminate unneeded beds, expensive services should be consolidated, and use space in other hospitals
  2. should eliminate unneeded beds, expensive services should be consolidated, and other hospitals’ space be used
  3. should eliminate unneeded beds, expensive services should be consolidated, and to use space in other hospitals
  4. eliminate unneeded beds, consolidate expensive services, and other hospitals’ space used
  5. eliminate unneeded beds, consolidate expensive services, and use space in other hospitals

The correct option is E. (Please select area after “is” to display the correct option)

 

Question 2

Joan of Arc, a young Frenchwoman who claimed to be divinely inspired, turned the tide of English victories in her country by liberating the city of Orleans and she persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne.

  1. she persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne
  2. persuaded Charles VII of France in claiming his throne
  3. persuading that the throne be claimed by Charles VII of France
  4. persuaded Charles VII of France to claim his throne
  5. persuading that Charles VII of France should claim the throne

The correct option is D. (Please select area after “is” to display the correct option)

 

Question 3

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had long been expected to announce a reduction in output to bolster sagging oil prices, but officials of the organization just recently announced that the group will pare daily production by 1.5 million barrels by the beginning of next year, but only if non- OPEC nations, including Norway, Mexico, and Russia, were to trim output by a total of 500,000 barrels a day.

  1. year, but only if non-OPEC nations, including Norway, Mexico, and Russia, were to trim output
  2. year, but only if the output of non-OPEC nations, which includes Norway, Mexico, and Russia, is trimmed
  3. year only if the output of non-OPEC nations, including Norway, Mexico, and Russia, would be trimmed
  4. year only if non-OPEC nations, which includes Norway, Mexico, and Russia, were trimming output
  5. year only if non-OPEC nations, including Norway, Mexico, and Russia, trim output

The correct option is E. (Please select area after “is” to display the correct option)

About Chiranjeev Singh

An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and with scores of 780 (2017) and 770 (2013) on GMAT and 99.98%ile on CAT, Chiranjeev is one of the most qualified GMAT tutors in India. Chiranjeev has earlier served as Director of Curriculum at e-GMAT. Chiranjeev has been helping students ace GMAT since 2012. He follows a concept-based methodology to teaching GMAT and is very committed to student success. You may contact him for any private GMAT tutoring needs at CJ@GMATwithCJ.com. He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

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