Grammar For IELTS: The Subjunctive Form
We use the subjunctive form in certain fixed expressions and after some verbs and adjectives which express the idea of necessity, importance, etc. The subjunctive form can be used to refer to events and situations in the past, present or future. We use it mostly in formal and literary language.
1. FORM AND USE
- Subject 1 + Verb (any tense) + that + Subject 2 + Verb (bare infinitive)
- It + be (any tense) + adjective + that + subject + verb (bare infinitive)
Verb: suggest, insist, require, recommend, propose, command, demand, request, acknowledge, know, etc
Adjective: advisable, anxious, desirable, eager, essential, important, necessary, preferable, vital, willing
The subjunctive is used in reported speech, very formal language (e.g. regulations, legal documents) and in poetry. In the Writing task 2 part for the IELTS test, you can make use of the subjunctive form to have a flow of academic writing and get a high score in Grammatical Range and Accuracy.
The subjunctive form is the same as the infinitive (without to). It does not show any marking for tense and can be used to refer to events in the past, present or future. We use it most often in that clauses after certain verbs (e.g. advise, ask, demand, insist, propose, recommend, request, suggest, know), and after adjectives (e.g. advisable, anxious, desirable, eager, essential, important, necessary, preferable, vital, willing), to express the idea that something is necessary or important:
- At yesterday’s hearing the judge insisted (that) Mr. Grant give evidence despite his relationship to the accused.
- In future cases, it will be vital that each party give full disclosure prior to trial.
- The doctor suggested that Tom stop smoking.
- I demand that I be allowed to be free now.
- She insisted that she pay her own way.
- We require that all receipts be submitted to the committee for approval.
- I know not whether laws be right. Or whether laws be wrong. (Oscar Wilde)
We can use passive and negative forms of the subjunctive:
- Members of the committee suggested England be excluded from future international tournaments.
- Regulations require that officers not enter the crime scene without protective clothing.
The verb be has an alternative subjunctive form were which is sometimes called the past subjunctive and is used to talk about the imagined present or future and in conditionals.
2. INFORMAL ALTERNATIVES
- Subject 1 + Verb (any tense) + that + Subject 2 + Should Verb
- It + be (any tense) + adjective + that + subject + should infinitive | or It + be(any tense) + adjective + for + subject + to + infinitive
As the use of the subjunctive is rather formal or literary in British English (it is less formal and more common in US English). British English speakers prefer to use should + infinitive orthe forms listed below in most situations:
- It is vital that every applicant complete the form in triplicate, (subjunctive)
It is vital that every applicant should complete the form in triplicate. (should + infinitive)
It is vital for every applicant to complete the form in triplicate, [for + subject + to + infinitive)
3. FIXED EXPRESSIONS
There are some fixed expressions which use subjunctive forms:
- If he doesn’t want to see us. then so be it. (= then let it happen)
- Bless you!
- Long live the republic!
- There’s very little chance of winning this case.’ Be that as it may. I’m not going to give up fighting.’ (= Whether that is true or not, I’m not …)
- I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if need be. (= if this is necessary)
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