Subjunctives in Conditions

Subjunctives in Conditions :

The subjunctive is used after
though and although to express an admission or concession not as a fact but as a supposition.

1. Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.
2. Though he were to beg this on his knees, I should still refuse.

When the concession is stated as an admitted fact, the indicative is regular.

1. Although he is a foreigner, he speaks good English.
2. Though he sometimes sings, he is not now in good voice.

IF and UNLESS , expressing condition, the subjunctive may be used in a variety of ways.


1. If this be gold, our fortune is made. [It may or may not be gold.]

2. If he confess, I shall overlook the offence. [He may or may not confess.]

3. Unless he confess, he cannot be convicted. [He may or may not confess.]

4. If this were gold, our fortune would be made. [It is not gold; hence our fortune is not made.]

5. If he stood before me at this moment, I should tell him my opinion. [He does not stand before me. Hence I do not tell him.]

6. If he had confessed, I should have overlooked his fault. [He did not confess. Hence I did not overlook it.]

7. Unless he had confessed, he could not have been convicted. [He did confess. Hence he was convicted.]

In conditional clauses, the present subjunctive denotes either present or future time. It puts the supposed case doubtfully, but not necessarily as improbable. See
EXAMPLES 1, 2 and 3 above.

The past subjunctive refers to present time. It implies that the supposed case is not now a fact. See
EXAMPLES 4 and 5 above.

The pluperfect (or past perfect) subjunctive refers to past time. It implies that the supposed case was not a fact. See
EXAMPLES 6 and 7 above.

Concession or condition may be expressed by the subjunctive without though or if, the verb preceding the subject which is sometimes omitted.


1. Try as we may, we cannot swim to that rock.
2. Say what he will, he can never convince me.
3. Come what will, I’ll stand my ground.
4. Be that as it may, my mind is made up.


1. Were I asked, I could tell all the facts. [If I were asked, etc.]

2. Had I known, I would have written to you. [If I had known, etc.]

3. I shall be twenty years old, come Tuesday. [If Tuesday come, etc.]

4. I will go, rain or shine. [If it rain, or if it shine, etc.]

5. Be he prince or be he pauper, every guest is welcome here.

Note : The subjunctive in these concessive and conditional uses is really the same as that in exhortations.


After as if (as though), the past subjunctive is used.

1. He looks as if he were about to speak. [Not: as if he was about to speak.]

2. I act as if I were crazy. [Not: as if I was crazy.]

The subjunctive may express not what is or was, but what would be or would have been, the case.

1. It were safer to travel by day. [It would be safer, etc.]

2. I had been wiser had I forded the river. [I should have been wiser if I had.]

This construction is old-fashioned. Modern English commonly uses should (or would) be, should (or would) have been, instead.

The subjunctive is occasionally used after that, lest, before, until, etc., in subordinate clauses referring to the future and commonly expressing purpose or expectation.

1. Take heed that he escape not. [Purpose.]

2. Give him food lest he perish. [Purpose.]

3. Let us tarry until he come. [Expectation.]

This construction is confined to poetry and the solemn or formal style. In ordinary language the indicative or a verb-phrase with MAY is used.

1. Take heed that he does not escape.
2. Give him food in order that he may not perish.
3. Let us wait till he comes.

The past subjunctive had is common in had rather and similar phrases.

1. I had rather wait a day.
2. You had better leave the room.
3. He had as life go as stay.
Note : Had in this construction is sometimes condemned as erroneous or inelegant. But the idiom is well-established.

Might better, would better and would rather may be used instead of HAD BETTER. But WOULD BETTER is improper in the first person.

The subjunctive forms are often replaced by verb-phrases containing the auxiliaries may, might, could, would, should.

In wishes….

1. May you live long and prosper!
2. May he never repent this act!

3. Ah, could I but live a hundred years!

In concessions and conditions….

1. Though {I | you | he} should fail, there would still be hope.

2. If {I | you | he} should fail, all would be lost.

In sentences expressing not what is or was, but what would be or would have been, the case…..

1. {I should | You would | He would} write to Charles if I knew his address.

2. It would have been better to telegraph.

In subordinate clauses introduced by that, lest, before and until.

1. I will take care that nothing may prevent.

2. I took care that nothing {might | should} prevent.

3. The general determined to wait until fresh troops should arrive.

Subjunctives in Conditions :

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