• 3-minute read
  • 21st November 2017

Grammar Tips: Understanding Grammatical Mood

The world of grammar is full of unsung heroes. The various grammatical moods, for example, are often overlooked. However, every sentence imaginable has a ‘mood’ of some kind.

As such, here is our guide to understanding the basics of grammatical mood. And to raise the profile of these grammatical heroes, we’ve recruited a couple of comic book heroes to help us with the examples.

With great grammar comes great responsibility.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

What Is Grammatical Mood?

When we talk about grammatical ‘mood’, we’re really talking about how words are used. There’s a big difference, for example, between asking a question and giving a command.

This is because questions and commands draw on a different grammatical mood. Most of the time, you won’t need to know which mood you’re using to write effectively. But understanding the basics (including the five major moods set out below) can help you to avoid errors.

The Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is used for making assertions or statements, such as:

Spider-Man is having a lie down.

Batman loves cake.

The vast majority of English sentences are in the indicative mood.

The Interrogative Mood

When we ask a question, we’re using the interrogative mood. For example:

Why is Spider-Man lying down?

Where is Batman’s cake?

Some people treat this as a variation of the indicative mood. However, asking a question in English it is distinct enough that it makes sense to separate these moods.

The Imperative Mood

An ‘imperative’ is a command. An imperative sentence would therefore be something like:

Get up, Spider-Man!

Stop eating so much cake.

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As shown above, the imperative mood may omit the subject (i.e. the person being asked or told to do something) from a sentence. Consequently, imperative sentences can be very short.

The Conditional Mood

The conditional mood is all about possibilities. We use it when discussing things that are uncertain or that depend on something else. This typically requires use of a modal verb:

Spider-Man should stop Dr Octopus.

The bomb might explode if Batman gets this wrong.

‘Would’ and ‘could’ are also common modal verbs used in the conditional mood.

The Subjunctive Mood

For hypothetical scenarios (i.e. something that is not the case), we need the subjunctive mood:

If I were Spider-Man, I would climb everything.

I wish Batman were here.

The difference between the subjunctive and conditional moods can seem confusing at first. The key is that subjunctive statements are usually about wishes, suggestions or imaginary situations.

In addition, the subjunctive mood uses the word ‘were’. This causes a little confusion, since ‘were’ is usually plural. For instance, if we were using the indicative mood, we would say ‘Batman was dancing’ (singular) and ‘Batman and Spider-Man were dancing’ (plural).

However, in the subjunctive mood, the correct verb is always ‘were’:

If Batman was here, he’d protect us.

If Batman were here, he’d protect us.

This is correct even though ‘Batman’ is singular. Knowing how to spot a subjunctive sentence can therefore help ensure you avoid misusing ‘was’ in your written work.

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