Monday, April 1, 2013
Professor Phillip Sparkes of NKU Chase College of Law has written a helpful explanation of verb moods in the latest Kentucky Bench and Bar magazine. Of the three English verb moods—indicative, imperative, and subjunctive—the most troublesome is the subjunctive; often, writers don’t know when it's appropriate or how to construct it. But, as Sparkes points out, the subjunctive mood is useful for, among other things, expressing a situation that is hypothetical or contrary to fact: “If I were the defendant, I would settle the case.” The subjunctive verb “were” cues the reader that the writer is not actually the defendant. But Sparkes also explains that not all clauses beginning with “if” concern matters contrary to fact. For example, a verb that merely expresses uncertainty about the past needs to be in the indicative, not the subjunctive, mood. Here’s my example: “If I was at that meeting, I’ve forgotten it.” The indicative “was” cues the reader that the statement is not hypothetical or contrary to fact, but could be true.