The category of mood in English is the most controversial verbal category and has given rise to much dispute. There is no universally accepted classification of moods, their number varies from as many as sixteen (M. Deutschbein) to practically no mood at all (L. S. Barkhudarov).
The category of mood expresses the character of connections between the process denoted by the verb and actual reality, in other words, it shows whether the action is real or unreal. This category is realized through the opposition of the direct (indicative) mood forms of the verb and the oblique mood forms: the indicative mood shows that the process is real, i.e. that it took place in the past, takes place in the present, or will take place in the future, e.g.: She helped me; She helps me; She will help me; the oblique mood shows that the process is unreal, imaginary (hypothetical, possible or impossible, desired, etc.), e.g.: If only she helped me! In this respect the category of mood resembles the category of voice: it shows the speaker’s subjective interpretation of the event as either actual or imaginary.
The nomenclature of the oblique mood types presents a great problem due to its meaningful intricacy in contrast to the scarcity of English word inflexion: the oblique mood has no morphological forms of its own; most of its forms are homonymous with the forms of the indicative. Different classifications of the oblique mood types are based either on formal criteria or on functional criteria: different scholars distinguish synthetical and analytical moods, past and present moods; different types of unreality are used as the basis for distinguishing the so-called imperative, subjunctive, conditional and suppositional moods. The combination of the two approaches is also very often misleading, since within the category of mood different meanings may be rendered by one and the same form and, vice versa, different verbal forms may render the same meaning.
Since all the oblique mood types share a common functional basis, the meaning of unreality, they may be terminologically united as subjunctive; and then several types of the subjunctive can be distinguished according to the form of expression and the various shades of unreality expressed.
The mood which is traditionally called subjunctive I, expresses various attitudes of the speaker: desire, consideration (supposition, suggestion, hypothesis), inducement (recommendation, request, command, order), etc. On the functional basis subjunctive I can be defined as the mood of attitudes, or the spective mood (to use the Latin word for “attitude”). The form of subjunctive I is homonymous with the bare infinitive: no morpheme –s is added in the 3d person singular, and the verb to be is used in the form “be” in all persons and numbers, e.g.: Long live the king! Whatever your mother say, I won’t give up; I demand that the case be investigated thoroughly; It is imperative there be no more delays in our plans. The form of subjunctive I remains unchanged in the description of past events, e.g.: It was imperative there be no more delays in our plans. There is no distinction between the absolutive past and the absolutive present in subjunctive I; the unreality of the process makes the expression of absolutive time irrelevant.
In traditional grammar, besides the direct and oblique moods, the so-called imperative mood is distinguished, as in Open the door!; Keep quiet, please. The analysis of these examples shows that there is basically no difference between what is traditionally called the imperative and subjunctive I: the form is homonymous with the bare infinitive in both cases, and the meaning rendered is that of a hypothetical action appraised as an object of desire, recommendation, supposition, etc. The two can be substituted for each other in similar contexts, cf.: Be careful! – I recommend you be careful; Come here! – I demand that you come here. Thus, the imperative mood can be treated as a subtype of subjunctive. It must be admitted though, that in British English subjunctive I has a certain formal, and even archaic stylistic flavor that the imperative does not have. In American English subjunctive I is less restricted stylistically and is more widely used than in British English.
Subjunctive IIin form is homonymous with the past tense forms of the verbs in the indicative mood, except for the verb to be, which, according to standard grammar, in all persons and numbers is used in the form were. Subjunctive II is used mostly in the subordinate clauses of complex sentences with causal-conditional relations, such as the clauses of unreal condition, e.g.: If she tried, (she would manage it); If I were you…; ofconcession, e.g.: Even if she tried, (she wouldn’t manage it); ofunreal comparison, e.g.: (She behaved,) as if she tried very hard, but failed; ofurgency, e.g.: (It’s high time) she tried to change the situation; ofunreal wish, e.g.: (I wish) she tried harder; If only she tried! So, the generalized meaning of subjunctive II can be defined as that of unreal condition: all the meanings outlined imply unreal conditions of some sort, cf.: She behaved as if she tried à She behaved as she would behave if she tried; It’s high time she tried to change the situation. à Her trying is the condition under which the situation would change; etc.; concession implies the condition, which is overcome or neglected: Even if she tried… à She didn’t try, but if she tried, nevertheless,… Since subjunctive II is used in syntactic constructions denoting conditional relations, it can be functionally defined as the “conditional mood”; additionally, since it denotes the unreality of an action which constitutes the condition for the corresponding consequence, or stipulates the consequence, it can be defined as “stipulative”. Thus, the appropriate explanatory functional term for subjunctive II is “the stipulative conditional mood”.
The form of the verb which denotes the corresponding consequence of an unreal condition in the principal part of the causal-conditional sentences is homonymous with the analytical future in the past tense forms (the past posterior) of verbs in the indicative mood, e.g.: (If she tried), she would manage it; Without you she wouldn’t manage it; (Even if she tried), she wouldn’t manage it. This type of the oblique mood is called, in traditional grammar, the “conditional”. It is possible to preserve the term and to specify it additionally as the “consective conditional” (to use the Latin word for “consequence”), in order to distinguish it from the “stipulative” conditional described previously. Thus, the stipulative conditional forms, denoting some unreal, imaginary condition, and the consective conditional forms, denoting some unreal, imaginary consequence, complement each other within the syntactic construction. To observe consistency with the simplified and unified numerical terminology, the consective conditional can be called subjunctive III.
Of major importance for the category of mood description is the question of time expression in the oblique mood. As was mentioned at the beginning, verbal time proper is neutralized with the oblique mood forms; their subdivision into present subjunctive and past subjunctive (past posterior and past unposterior) reflects only their structural features. As for the actual expression of time, they render time relatively, by means of the aspective category of retrospective coordination: the non-perfect forms of the verbs in the subjunctive (past indefinite for subjunctive II and future-indefinite-in-the-past for subjunctive III) express the relative present - the simultaneity or posteriority of unreal actions, while the perfect forms (past perfect for subjunctive II and future-perfect-in-the-past for subjunctive III) are used to express relative past - the priority of unreal actions, stressing their actual failure. Cf.: I am sure that if she tried she would manage it (the simultaneity or posteriority in the present). – I was sure that if she tried she would manage it (the simultaneity or posteriority in the past). – I am sure that if she had tried she would have managed it (the priority and failure of the action in the present). – I was sure that if she had tried she would have managed it (the priority and failure of the action in the past). The regular expression of relative time through aspect forms (perfect vs. imperfect) peculiar to the subjunctive is defined as “time-retrospect shift”; it is the formal feature of the subjunctive which marks it in opposition to the indicative.
One more type of the oblique mood, traditionally referred to as “modal suppositional” is built with the help of modal verbs, and expresses the same semantic types of unreality as subjunctive I, cf.: may/might + infinitive – is used to denote wish, desire, hope, and supposition in some contexts (with the words “whatever, however, though”, etc.), e.g.: May it be so! (cf. with subjunctive I: Be it so!); I hoped he might come soon (cf.: I hoped that he come soon); Whatever he might say I am not afraid of him (cf.: Whatever he say, I am not afraid of him); should + infinitive – is used to express supposition, suggestion, speculation, recommendation, inducements of various types and degrees of intensity, e.g.: Whatever my mother should say about him, we’ll marry one day (cf. with subjunctive I: Whatever my mother say about him, we’ll marry one day); It is obligatory that she should be present at the meeting (cf.: It is obligatory that she be present at the meeting). We can add one more type of modal construction to this, constructions with the semi-notional verb “to let” expressing inducement, because, as stated earlier in the analysis of subjunctive I, inducement can be treated as a specific type of unreality, e.g.: Let’s agree to differ; Let him do it his own way! These constructions are in complementary distribution with the imperative mood constructions of subjunctive I, which means that they are semantically identical, but used in grammatically different environments: subjunctive I inducements are used only with the second person, while let + infinitive inducements are used in all other cases, cf.: Do it your own way. – Let me do it my own way. - Let us do it our own way. – Let him do it his own way, etc.
This type of the oblique mood can be called, in accord with the accepted numerical terminology, subjunctive IV; the appropriate explanatory functional term for it is “spective mood”, and additionally, since it is formed with the help of modal verbs, it can be specified as the “modal spective”, to distinguish it from subjunctive I, which is specified as the “pure spective”.
Subjunctive IV complements subjunctive I not only by expressing inducement in different persons. Since subjunctive I has only one form (homonymous with the bare infinitive or the present imperfect), it cannot render priority or express negation; subjunctive IV in accord with the general time-retrospect shift rule can express relative present, simultaneity or posteriority, through its imperfect forms (the present imperfect), or it can render the relative past, the failure of some imaginary action in priority through its perfect forms (the present perfect), cf.: I wish it be so/ might be so (simultaneity or posteriority in the present; subjunctive I or subjunctive IV). – I wished it be so/ might be so (simultaneity or posteriority in the past; subjunctive I or subjunctive IV). - I wish that it might not be so (simultaneity or posteriority in the present + negation; subjunctive IV). – I wished that it might not be so (simultaneity or posteriority in the past + negation; subjunctive IV). - I wish that it might have been so (failure in the present priority; subjunctive IV). – I wished that it might have been so (failure in the past priority; subjunctive IV).
The system of the oblique moods can be summarized in the following way: the subjunctive, the integral mood of unreality, marked by time-retrospect shift, presents the two sets of forms: the present forms expressing the mood of attitudes, the spective mood, and the past forms expressing the mood of reasoning, of appraising causal-conditional relations of processes. The two types of the spective mood, the pure spective and the modal spective, complement each other in different syntactic and stylistic environments; the two types of the conditional mood, the stipulative conditional and the consective conditional, complement each other within syntactic constructions reflecting the causal-conditional relations of events. The system of the oblique moods can be presented in the following table:
Subjunctive I (spective)
Form: bare infinitive (imperfect)
Example: Be it so!
Subjunctive II (stipulative conditional)
Form: the past (imperfect or perfect)
Meaning: unreal condition
Example: If she tried…
Subjunctive IV (modal spective)
Form: modal verbs + bare infinitive (imperfect or perfect)
Example: May it be so!
Subjunctive III (consective conditional)
Form: future-in-the-past (imperfect or perfect)
Meaning: consequence of unreal condition
Example: … she would manage it.
In conclusion, it must be mentioned that the whole system of the English subjunctive mood is not stable; it is still developing and the use of forms fluctuates a lot: for example, the form was is often used instead of were in the third person singular in subjunctive II (If he was here…), the auxiliaries should and would are often interchangeable, etc. In colloquial speech the semantic and formal contrasts between the indicative, the past subjunctive and the modal subjunctive are often neutralized, e.g.: It is impossible that he is right/ that he should be right/ that he be right; neutralization is also natural in reported speech in the past, e.g.: She thought that if she tried harder she would get the job.