Subjunctive Mood: Subjunctive mood I

October 3, 2002: Issue 38

SIM STYLE: How do I handle dimensions in copy?
Use figures and the dimension X (command-shift-Q followed by option-Y) to avoid cumbersome descriptions. In general, list width by length, then depth if needed. See the following examples.
incorrect: At 12 feet wide by 15 feet long, the living room felt cramped.
correct: The 12×15-foot living room felt cramped.
correct: At just 38×100 feet, the narrow lot presented design challenges.
correct: The figurine is 4x6x10 inches.

GRAMMAR: Coulda, woulda, shoulda: subjunctive mood, part I
Feeling wistful and wishful? Or perhaps doubtful and regretful? The English language changes ever so slightly when we begin speaking of improbabilities or things contrary to fact. It’s called the subjunctive mood, when “was” changes to “were,” often in tandem with “could,” “would,” or “should.”

Subjunctive mood is easy to recognize, but deciding when its use is appropriate can sometimes be a challenge. If the answer to one of these questions is yes, subjunctive mood is usually correct:
Does the statement express a wish?
• They wish the remodeling were (not was) complete.
• If only it were (not was) possible to fly, I would be there sooner. Does the statement express a doubt?
• I doubt I could (not can) complete the project without help. Is the statement conditional?
• If I were (not was) you, I would choose a different paint color.
• If the architect were given free rein, we would be living in a glass house.
Not all conditional statements call for subjunctive mood, however. If there is a reasonable chance the statement may be true or still may come true, it’s best to leave it in indicative mood.
• If he was (not were) there, I didn’t see him. (He might have been there.)
• If he gets (not were to get) a Christmas bonus, as expected, he will (not would) install a pool.

For more information, see Issue 39.

Back to Style on the Go Archive
Back to BHG Stylebook Table of Contents

Comments are closed.