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GMAT Preparation Verbal

Subjunctive Verb – Definition, Features, and Uses

Are you confused about the subjunctive mood? It is very common for students to find subjunctive verbs peculiar, which is why they end up making mistakes! Read this helpful article on Subjunctive verbs to understand what they mean, how to identify them, and their correct usage!

What is the Subjunctive Verb?

The word “Subjunctive” can be defined as relating to or denoting a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible.

Thus, the subjunctive verb is frequently used with verbs which express conditions, wishes (those likely to come true and improbable ones),  requests, orders, suggestions, recommendations, etc.

Special features of the subjunctive

To make it easier for you to identify and understand the Subjunctive verbs, here are some of their special features –

I. The subjunctive verb is always written in the plural

The above aspect is different from the usual subject verb agreement aspect of a sentence. We usually ensure that if a subject is singular, its verb should also be singular. However, in case of the subjunctive verb, the verb is always plural irrespective of whether the subject is singular or plural. Let’s look at the following example:

Example 1 : The High Court ordered that the defendant pay the fine.

In the above sentence, take note of the segment “the defendant pay the fine”.
Although “the defendant” is singular, the verb “pay” is plural, reflecting the use of the subjunctive verb. This is because the word “ordered” requires subjunctive form.

Let’s look at another sentence:

Example 2 : The board recommended that the school establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints.

In the above sentence, take note of the segment “the school establish an independent committee”.
Although “the school” is singular, the verb “establish” is plural, reflecting the use of the subjunctive verb. This is because the word “recommended” requires subjunctive form.

II. Subjunctive verb is always in the present tense form

Let’s revisit the earlier examples:

  • The High Court ordered that the defendant pay the fine
  • The board recommended that the school establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints.

In both the above constructions, the verbs are in the present tense form – “pay” and “establish”

The following would be found incorrect in the subjunctive verb:

Incorrect: The High Court ordered that the defendant paid/has paid/had paid the fine

Incorrect: The board recommended that the school established/has established/had established an independent committee to deal with student complaints.

III. Subjunctive form of “be” is always “be”

Let’s take a previous example:

Incorrect: The school committee mandated that the school is to be reopened after the second week of Christmas.

Correct: The school committee mandated that the school is to BE reopened after the second week of Christmas.

Note: The verbs “is”, “Are” and “Am” are not allowed in subjunctive verbs

How to use Subjunctive verbs?

Now that we know what are Subjunctive verbs and their features, let’s see how you can use them –

I. The format

In the examples given above, there were words such as “ordered”, “mandated” and “recommended” in the sentence, leading to the necessity of using the subjunctive verb. Let’s call such words “directive words” (since they direct what is to be done or what should be done or what must be done).

Thus, the typical format of the subjunctive verb construction is:

Directive word + that + subject + Subjunctive verb (in plural present)

Let’s fit the earlier examples into the format:

Directive wordThatSubjectSubjunctive verb (in plural present)
Orderedthatdefendantpay
Recommendedthatschoolestablish

II. The use of “should” and “to verb” is incorrect with the subjunctive verb:

The directive words such as recommend, order, mandate, necessitate, etc essentially mean “ should /needs to/must”. The “should/to/must” is actually inherent in each of the above mentioned verbs and thus, repeating the “should/to” is incorrect and leads to redundancy.

Let’s take the previous examples:

Incorrect: The school committee mandated that the school should be reopened after the second week of Christmas.

Incorrect: The school committee mandated that the school to be reopened after the second week of Christmas

Correct: The school committee mandated that the school should/to be be reopened after the second week of Christmas.

Incorrect: The High Court ordered that the defendant should pay the fine

Incorrect: The High Court ordered that the defendant to pay the fine

Correct: The High Court ordered that the defendant should/to pay the fine

Incorrect: The board recommended that the school should establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints

Incorrect: The board recommended that the school is to establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints

Correct: The board recommended that the school should/is to establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints

III. When to use it – in the presence of directive words

The subjunctive verb should be used for words indicating demand, recommendation or request:

For e.g.: Demand, Propose, Suggest, Dictate, Recommend, Insist, Request, Mandate, necessitate, Stipulate, etc

Note: The subjunctive verb should be used with both the verb and noun forms of directive  words – for example with “suggest” as well as “suggestion”.

Example:

  • The board suggested that the school establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints.
  • It was the board’s suggestion that the school establish an independent committee to deal with student complaints.

The format remains pretty much the same as mentioned in section 2.1 of this article.

IV. Incorrect usage of the Subjunctive verb

There are certain verbs which seem similar to the directive words. However, these verbs should not be used with the subjunctive verb. Such words should be used with the “to verb” since the objects of such verbs should follow the verbs.

Such words are:

Persuade, Advise, Want, Forbid, persuade, convince

For example:

Incorrect: The lawyer advised that the couple agree to an out of court settlement.

Correct: The lawyer advised the couple to agree to an out of court settlement.

Special mention

There are certain directive words which can be used with both the “subjunctive verb” and the “to verb”

For e.g.: Require, Prefer, Ask, Beg, Desire, Order, Urge, Intend

Correct: The High court ordered the defendant to pay the fine

Correct: The High court ordered that the defendant pay the fine.

(In such cases, the clue lies in spotting the “that” after the directive verbs. If the “that” is present, then use the subjunctive verb, else the “to verb”)

Incorrect: The High court ordered (no that) the defendant pay the fine

Incorrect: The High court ordered that the defendant to pay the fine

The subjunctive verb in an official question

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers demanding that it should bring back the original Coke formula.

(A) demanding that it should

(B) demanding it to

(C) and their demand to

(D) who demanded that it

(E) who demanded it to

Solution –

Step 1: Understanding Intended Meaning

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers

  • In July 1985, the Coca-Cola company yielded to (gave in to the demands of) thousands of irate consumers.
    • This move of the company was one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing

demanding that it should bring back the original Coke formula.

  • Demanding” seems to be modifying the noun “consumers” and on the surface nothing is wrong with that. However, the word “demanding” is the “ing” form of the directive verb “demand” and “demanding” is also followed by “that”. This format clearly indicates that a subjunctive has to be used here.
    • Also, remember, “demand” inherently means “require/need to/should/must” and the repetition of the “should” is incorrect as it leads to redundancy.(as explained in the article in section 2.2).
  • Correct version: consumers who were demanding that Coca Cola bring back the original Coke formula.

Intended meaning:

  • In July 1985, the Coca-Cola company yielded to (gave in to the demands of) thousands of irate consumers.
    • This move of the company was one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing
  • The consumers were demanding that Coca Cola bring back the original Coke formula.

Step 2: Eliminate choices with identified errors

Checking for five aspects

  1. Golden rules
  2. Meaning
    1. Redundancy in the use of “demanding” and “should” – error of subjunctive verb.
  3. Lists
    1. No error
  4. Tenses
    1. No error
  5. Idioms

Eliminate

No other choice has the error present in Choice A.

Step 3: Evaluate meaning of remaining choices

To be done for Option B, C, D and E . Detailed out below each choice.

Choice A Analysis

Incorrect and Eliminated in Step 2

Choice B Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence:

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers demanding it to bring back the original Coke formula.

  • We cannot demand someone to do something. We can demand that the person do something, or ask the person to do something, but not demand to.
  • Demand to is unidiomatic.

Incorrect Choice.

Choice C Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence:

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers and their demand to bring back the original Coke formula.

  • Simplifying the construction:
    • …the Coca-Cola company ….. yielded to …. consumers and their demand ……
  • This construction implies the company yielded to two things separately. However, the company did not separately yield to the consumers and their demand (one by one).
  • The company yielded to the consumers who were demanding something or the company yielded to the consumers’ demand.
  • Such wordiness is not favoured by GMAT.

Incorrect Choice.

Choice D Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence :

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers who demanded that it bring back the original Coke formula.

  • The words in bold follow the format of the subjunctive verb:
  • Directive word+that+subject + subjunctive verb = Demanded + that+ it+ bring
  • “It” clearly refers to the Coca Cola company.
  • Logical
  • Clear,
  • Same as the intended meaning

Correct Choice.

Choice E Analysis

Fitting in the original sentence:

In one of the most stunning reversals in the history of marketing, the Coca-Cola company in July 1985 yielded to thousands of irate consumers who demanded it to back the original Coke formula.

  • This choice displays an error quite similar to the one is choice B. Demand to is unidiomatic

Incorrect Choice.

Takeaways

  • The subjunctive verb should be used for words indicating demand, recommendation or request:
    • For e.g.: Demand, Propose, Suggest, Dictate, Recommend, Insist, Request, Mandate, necessitate, Stipulate, etc.
    • These words can be called directive words.
  • Format: Directive word + that + subject + Subjunctive verb (in plural present)
  • Special Aspects:
    • The subjunctive verb is always written in the plural
    • Subjunctive verb is always in the present tense form
    • Subjunctive form of “be” is always “be”
  • The use of “should” and “to verb” is incorrect with the subjunctive verb

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