Unit 5.2

Past Subjunctives

Introduction

Subjunctive is a verb tense that refers to actions that are possibilities rather than facts.

Past subjunctives express imaginary conditions.

Form

Past subjunctive has the same structure of past simple. {See Past Simple, A1 level}

Past subjunctive usually appears:

  • after if or I wish, to express sorrow or desire;
  • after as if/as though to express doubts.

NOTE: the verb to be is always were in past subjunctive.

Example

  • If I were you, I would go to the house in the country to relax.
  • I wish you were here.
  • What would Matt’s family do if he suffered from illness?
  • You act as if you were single.
  • He started to cry as if he had a horrible dream.
  • He drove as though he were Michael Schumacher.
  • They have dressed very formal as though they would walk on the red carpet. 

Use

We use the past subjunctive structure when we want to:

  • express sorrow, desire, doubts in the present;
  • talk about an imaginary situation in the past;
  • refer to unrealistic conditions.

Summary

Past subjunctives express imaginary conditions. They are used to express sorrow, desire and doubts in the present, to talk about an imaginary situation in the past, and to refer to unrealistic conditions.
It appears after if or I wish and after as if/as though, and has the same structure of past simple.
For example:
“He was acting as if he didn’t know the problem.” = We use the past subjunctive didn’t know after as if to express doubt.
If I had more money I would travel the world.” = We use the past subjunctive had and would after if to talk about an imaginary condition. When referring to unrealistic conditions, that are unlikely to happen, then we are dealing with the second conditional.

NOTE: the verb to be is always were in past subjunctive.

For example:
I wish I were as good at cooking as my mum.” = We use the past subjunctive were after I wish to express desire.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

RELATED

Past subjunctives express imaginary conditions.

For better understanding, at A1 level, learn more about the use of Past Simple. For better understanding, at B1 level, learn more about Ellipsis.

Exercises


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