English moods (imperative, indicative, and subjunctive)

In a sentence, the grammatical mood conveys the speaker’s attitude about the state of being of what the sentence describes. This may sound a little complicated, but it’s simple enough: In the indicative mood, for instance, the speaker is sure that something is the case, while in the imperative mood the speaker desires that something should happen. 

Mood is only one of many verb properties, others being tense, aspect, and voice. It is expressed through the sentence’s verbs and grammatical structure. For example, a sentence that lacks a subject and begins with a present-tense verb is likely imperative, and a sentence that begins with if and uses past-tense verbs is likely subjunctive.

Linguists have defined dozens of moods used in languages throughout the world, but English only uses three.

Indicative mood

The indicative mood is used to make factual statements, ask questions, or express opinions as if they were facts. Any verb tense may be deployed in the indicative mood.

The following sentences are statements of fact or belief, so they are in the indicative mood:

I saw something today that really annoyed me. [Vitrearum’s Church Art]

He lives most of the year in Spain but returns regularly to visit his ailing mother. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Vikings will be the new vampires. [Nile Guide]

Prosecutors have not said whether they will appeal the decision. [New York Times]

Imperative mood

sentence in the imperative mood expresses commands or requests. It indicates that the speaker desires for the action expressed in the sentence to take place. In most imperative sentences, there’s an implied you. These sentences are in the imperative mood:

Sit on the sofa.

Let me go to bed

Keep reading.

Subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood is complicated. For an in-depth explanation, see our post on the subject.

Comments

  1. What about the conditional state? You forgot that…

  2. conditional- is where something has to happen for that to happen!!
    Example: If I was president, gas would be cheaper. I would have to be president first, before gas could be cheaper.

  3. inflectional morphemes in the english language system

  4. What mood is this: “We go.”
    And does it matter if it’s simply a standalone statement or if it’s in answer to a question?

    • Simple Present, which is also known as Present Indicative.

      [Subject] + [Infinitive] is the basic construction.

      Answering as a simple question or factual statement is technically correct, but it’s awkward in practice by itself, as I’m sure you’d agree, since in english it’s used mainly for generalizations/facts (“Americans live in America.”) or routines (“We go to work every morning at 8am.”). In the most of the Latin languages, it’s also used for Present Continuous as well (“You read this.” could translate as “You are reading this”.).

  5. So, She went to the park yesterday would be ‘indicative past’, right?

    • Simple Past, which is also known as the Preterite. It’s an indicative mood, yep. Most of what we say in english is in the indicative. It’s the other moods that are a little trickier.

  6. What about the interrogative mood, please?

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