Last modified on 4 December 2014, at 18:48

Grammatical mood

In linguistics, grammatical mood (sometimes mode) is a grammatical (usually morphologically marked) feature of verbs, used to signal modality.[1][2]:p.181;[3] That is, it is the use of verbal inflections—known as grammatical conjugation—that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying (for example, whether it is intended as a statement of fact, of desire, of command, etc.). Less commonly, the term is used more broadly to allow for the syntactic expression of modality — that is, the use of non-inflectional phrases.

Mood is distinct from grammatical tense or grammatical aspect, although the same word patterns are used to express more than one of these meanings at the same time in many languages, including English and most other modern Indo-European languages. (See tense–aspect–mood for a discussion of this.)

Some examples of moods are indicative, interrogatory, imperative, emphatic, subjunctive, injunctive, optative, potential. Infinitive is a category apart from all these finite forms, and so are gerunds and participles. Some Uralic Samoyedic languages have more than ten moods; Nenets has as many as sixteen. The original Indo-European inventory of moods consisted of indicative, subjunctive, optative, and imperative. Not every Indo-European language has each of these moods, but the most conservative ones such as Avestan, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit have them all. English has the indicative, imperative, emphatic, and subjunctive moods; others, such as the conditional, do not appear as morphologically distinct forms.

Not all of the moods listed below are clearly conceptually distinct. Individual terminology varies from language to language, and the coverage of (e.g.) the "conditional" mood in one language may largely overlap with that of the "hypothetical" or "potential" mood in another. Even when two different moods exist in the same language, their respective usages may blur, or may be defined by syntactic rather than semantic criteria. For example, the subjunctive and optative moods in Ancient Greek alternate syntactically in many subordinate clauses, depending on the tense of the main verb. The usage of the indicative, subjunctive, and jussive moods in Classical Arabic is almost completely controlled by syntactic context. The only possible alternation in the same context is between indicative and jussive following the negative particle .

Realis moodsEdit

Main article: Realis mood

Realis moods are a category of grammatical moods that indicate that something is actually the case or actually not the case. The most common realis mood is the indicative mood. Some languages have a distinct generic mood for expressing general truths. For other realis moods, see the main Realis mood article.


The indicative mood, or evidential mood, is used for factual statements and positive beliefs. All intentions that a particular language does not categorize as another mood are classified as indicative. In English, questions are considered interrogatory. The indicative mood is the most commonly used mood and is found in all languages. Example: "Paul is eating an apple" or "John eats apples".

Irrealis moodsEdit

Main article: Irrealis mood

Irrealis moods are the set of grammatical moods that indicate that something is not actually the case or a certain situation or action is not known to have happened. Simply put, they are any verb or sentence mood that are not realis moods. They may be part of expressions of necessity, possibility, requirement, wish or desire, fear, or as part of counterfactual reasonings, etc.

Irrealis verb forms are used when speaking of an event which has not happened, is not likely to happen, or is otherwise far removed from the real course of events. For example, in the sentence "If you had done your homework, you wouldn't have failed the class", had done is an irrealis verb form.

Some languages have distinct grammatical forms that indicate that the event described by a specific verb is an irrealis verb. Many of the Indo-European languages preserve a subjunctive mood that functions as an irrealis. Some also preserve an optative mood that describes events that are wished for or hoped for but not factual.

Common irrealis moods are the imperative, the conditional, the subjunctive, the optative, the jussive, and the potential. For other examples, see the main article.


Main article: Subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood, sometimes called conjunctive mood, has several uses in dependent clauses. Examples include discussing imaginary or hypothetical events and situations, expressing opinions or emotions, or making polite requests (the exact scope is language-specific). A subjunctive mood exists in English, though it is used in English much less than in many other Indo-European languages. In English, this mood has, for some uses, become something of a linguistic fossil. An example of the subjunctive mood is "I suggest that Paul eat an apple". In this instance, Paul is not in fact eating an apple. The sentence merely presents the hypothetical (but unfulfilled) actions of Paul according to the speaker's suggestion. Contrast this with the indicative verb of the sentence "Paul eats an apple", in which the verb "to eat" is in the present tense and employs a mood that states an unambiguous fact. Another way of expressing the request is "I suggest that Paul should eat an apple", derived from "Paul should eat an apple."

Other uses of the subjunctive in English, as in "And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass..." (KJV Leviticus 5:7) are archaisms. Statements such as "I will ensure that he leave immediately" often sound archaic or overly formal, and have been almost completely supplanted by constructions with the indicative, like "I will ensure that he leaves immediately".

The subjunctive part of the conditional version of "John eats if he is hungry" is:

English: John would eat if he were hungry.
German: Johannes äße, wenn er Hunger hätte.
Spanish: Juan comería si tuviera hambre.
Italian: Giovanni mangerebbe se avesse fame.
French: Jean mangerait s'il avait faim.
Old English (Anglo-Saxon): Ic ālyste sē þone Iohannes ācwierre.

The above examples may not, according to the rules of their language, have been grammatically correct- as such they have been changed accordingly.

The subjunctive mood figures prominently in the grammar of the Romance languages, which require this mood for certain types of dependent clauses. This point commonly causes difficulty for English speakers learning these languages.

In certain other languages, the dubitative or the conditional moods may be employed instead of the subjunctive in referring to doubtful or unlikely events (see the main article).


Main article: Conditional mood

The conditional mood is used to speak of an event whose realization is dependent upon another condition, particularly, but not exclusively, in conditional sentences. In Modern English, this type of modality is expressed via a periphrastic construction, with the form would + infinitive, (e.g. I would buy), and thus is a mood only in the broad sense and not in the more common narrow sense of the term "mood". In other languages, such as Spanish or French, verbs have a specific conditional inflection. This applies also to some verbs in German, in which the conditional mood is conventionally called Konjuntiv II, differing from Konjunktiv I. Thus, the conditional version of "John eats if he is hungry" is:

English: John would eat if he were hungry.
German: Johannes äße, wenn er hungrig wäre.
French: Jean mangerait s'il avait faim.
Spanish: Juan comería si tuviera hambre.
Portuguese: João comeria se estivesse com fome.
Polish: Jan zjadłby, gdyby był głodny.
Italian: Giovanni mangerebbe se avesse fame.
Finnish: Juha söisi jos hänellä olisi nälkä.

Johannes würde essen, wenn er hungrig wäre is also acceptable in German.

In the Romance languages, the conditional form is used primarily in the apodosis (main clause) of conditional clauses, and in a few set phrases where it expresses courtesy or doubt. The main verb in the protasis (dependent clause) is usually in the subjunctive or in the indicative mood. However, this is not a universal trait: among others in German (as above), Finnish and Romanian (even though the last is a Romance language), the conditional mood is used in both the apodosis and the protasis. A further example is the sentence "I would buy a house if I earned a lot of money", where in Finnish both clauses have the conditional marker -isi-: Ostaisin talon, jos ansaitsisin paljon rahaa. In Polish (as well as in eastern Slavic languages) the conditional marker -by also appears twice: Kupiłbym dom, gdybym zarabiał dużo pieniędzy.

Because English is used as a lingua franca, a similar kind of doubling of the word would is a fairly common way to misuse an English language construction: *I would buy if I would earn.... As in this wrong case, in English, the would + infinitive construct can be employed in main clauses, with a subjunctive sense: "If you would only tell me what is troubling you, I might be able to help".


Main article: Optative mood

The optative mood expresses hopes, wishes or commands and has other uses that may overlap with the subjunctive mood. Few languages have an optative as a distinct mood; some that do are Albanian, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Japanese, Finnish, and Nepali.


Main article: Imperative mood

The imperative mood expresses direct commands, prohibitions, and requests. In many circumstances, using the imperative mood may sound blunt or even rude, so it is often used with care. Example: "Paul, do your homework now". An imperative is used to tell someone to do something without argument.

Many languages, including English, use the bare verb stem to form the imperative (such as "go", "run", "do"). Other languages, such as Seri and Latin, however, use special imperative forms.

In English, the second person is implied by the imperative except when first-person plural is specified, as in "Let's go" ("Let us go").

In Romance languages a first person plural exists in the imperative mood: Spanish: Vamos a la playa; French: Allons à la plage (both meaning: Let us go to the beach).

The prohibitive mood, the negative imperative may be grammatically or morphologically different from the imperative mood in some languages. It indicates that the action of the verb is not permitted, e.g. "Don't you go!"

In English, the imperative is sometimes used to form a conditional sentence: e.g. "go eastwards a mile, and you'll see it" means "if you go eastwards a mile, you will see it".


Main article: Jussive mood

The jussive mood expresses pleading, insistence, imploring, self-encouragement, wishing, desiring, intention, commanding, purpose, or consequence. It is found in Arabic, where it is called the مجزوم, maǧzūm. The rules governing the jussive in Arabic are somewhat complex.


The potential mood is a mood of probability indicating that, in the opinion of the speaker, the action or occurrence is considered likely. It is used in Finnish, Japanese, in Sanskrit, and in the Sami languages. (In Japanese it is often called something like tentative, since potential is used to refer to a voice indicating capability to perform the action.)

In Finnish, it is mostly a literary device, as it has virtually disappeared from daily spoken language in most dialects. Its affix is -ne-, as in *men + ne + emennee "(s/he/it) will probably go". In English, it is formed by means of the auxiliaries may, can, ought, and must: "She may go.".


Main article: Inferential mood

Other moodsEdit


Main article: Interrogative mood

The interrogative (or interrogatory) mood is used for asking questions. Most languages do not have a special mood for asking questions, but exceptions include Welsh and Nenets.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Palmer, F. R., Mood and Modality, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986 (second edition 2001).
  2. ^ Bybee, Joan; Perkins, Revere; and Pagliuca, William. The Evolution of Grammar, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994.
  3. ^ Loos, Eugine Erals; Anderson, Susan; Day, Dwight H., Jr.; Jordan, Paul C.; Wingate, J. Douglas, eds. (2004), What is mood and modality?, SIL International, retrieved 2014-02-06 

External linksEdit

From SIL International: