I previously discussed the Infinitive form of verbs in a post a couple days ago. You’ll hear the word Subjunctive in two place in GMAT review. The formation of the verb depends on its use in a sentence.
The “Hypothetical” use of the Subjunctive is by far the most common way this form appears in modern English. Hypothetical means “it’s possible” or “maybe.” Hypothetical sentences take the form “If ____, then ____” or “_____ must happen, or else _____” “If” this condition occurs, “then” this result is possible.
For the hypothetical sentence, the subjunctive form is created by using the PAST TENSE of the verb. “I ate“. “If children ate their vegetables, they would grow taller.” If you need to use the verb “to be,” the subjunctive is “were.” “If you were home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!” If you need to, combine it with an INFINITIVE. “If children were to eat their vegetables, they would grow taller” “If you were to go home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!“
The hypothetical sentence will use a subjunctive in the “If” part of the sentence, but only IF A) there is no sign that the “If” must happen today or in the past and B) the result would occur in the future and C) there is no certainty that either will happen. Note that “may” and “can” suggest something is more likely than not. “Would” and “could” suggest more unlikely than likely. (*Don’t ask me why, that’s just how they interpret it on the GMAT)
- “If Mary eats this fruit, she loses weight.” – NOT subjunctive. (this is guaranteed to happen when the “if” part is fulfilled. Every time. Also, the result is set in the present.)
- “If Mary eats this fruit, she may lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (“may” or “can” suggests that normally, this would happen. So little uncertainty.)
- “If Mary eats this fruit tomorrow, she will lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (about the future, but no uncertainty here. If x happens, then y).
- “If Mary ate this fruit, she would lose weight.” – SUBJUNCTIVE! (She could eat it anytime in the future. The result thus would also happen in the future. It is also not guaranteed that Mary will eat the fruit or that she will thus lose weight. “Would” suggests more unlikely than likely)
When the GMAT gives you a hypothetical sentence, remember that you must use the subjunctive verb in the IF part of the sentence.
The second use of the Subjunctive is closely related to the Infinitive form. The subjunctive is created by taking the infinitive form (to jump) and eliminating the “to” portion -> “jump.”
- To swing -> Swing
- To laugh -> Laugh
- Was, Were, Are -> Be
As with version #1, you can also combine “were” + Infinitive for this version. This form of the Subjunctive is used in mainly two situations:
- When you are expressing that something should or could or you wish would happen. Very similar to the hypothetical in that there is no guarantee that it actually will happen.
- “I hope that you eat the apple. “
- “I suggest that you come to my house“
- “I would appreciate it if you were to visit our grandmother.”
- When you are acting like an annoying older sister by telling people what to do. Here, although you are making it a sentence, what you are really expressing is a command. (And you could certainly write it as a command). Because it’s just a nice way of phrasing a polite demand, you use the same verb you would use in a real command (the Subjunctive).
- “I recommend that you eat the apple.” – Sounds a lot like “Eat the apple!”
- “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz.” = “Be ready for a pop quiz!”
Please note the importance of “that” for this version. This version always follows a certain pattern (clue!):
- Verb + That + (subject + Subjunctive)
If you don’t have the “that” in there, it isn’t subjunctive. For example, in the sentence “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz” we know that it is subjunctive because it includes the word “that.”
But what about the following sentence: “The teacher ordered the students to be ready for a pop quiz.” = OK, but it uses the infinitive “to be” instead of the subjunctive because there is NO “THAT“!
*Just be careful which verbs are command verbs and which are not. For example, “I forbid” requires an infinitive “I forbid you to ____” instead of a subjunctive.