Verbs can be used to express differences in the intention or mood of the speaker or writer. There are three moods in English: the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods. Each one has a specific function.
1) The indicative mood is used when the speaker or writer wishes to make a statement or ask a question.
- Are you leaving tonight?
- The train is running ten minutes late.
2) The imperative mood is used for commands, requests, or direction.
- Call Fredericks and cancel that shipment.
- Please return the book when you are finished.
- Turn right at eh corner, then go left.
3) The subjunctive mood uses a different form of the past and present to express matters of urgency, formality, possibility, or speculation.
ç Urgency: I demanded that she see me immediately. (The indicative mood would use the form sees or can see—for example, I want to know if she can see me immediately.)
ç Formality: He recommended that the zoning law be adopted. (The subjunctive mood uses be adopted rather than the indicative mood is adopted—for example, the vote is 44 to 3, the law is adopted.)
ç Possibility: If I were to sign the invoice, we could not refuse any defective parts. (The phrase If I were to sign expresses a future possibility. It has no reference to the past, even though were is a past tense verb form. Compare this sentence to Because I signed the invoice, we could not refuse any defective parts. In this sentence, the indicative mood describes an action that took place in the past.)
ç Speculation: If he were king, he would decree that football be played every afternoon. (The subjunctive mood expresses something that is not true, a statement contrary to fact. The indicative mood, on the other hand, simply states a fact—for example, If he was ready, why didn’t he come?)