Business Writing Tip #97— Moods and Tenses

smilingIn English we have three tenses—the past, the present and the future. There are, just to make life interesting, variations on these to indicate whether actions are continuous or not, or when they happened in relation to something else, and the like. These are about the division of time. Of course it’s not just about being more interesting; it’s about being more precise. But more on tenses another time.

Many people confuse tenses with moods. You see, we also have moods in English.

Now I’m not talking bad moods, or snappy moods here. I’m talking about the three simple moods—the Indicative, the Imperative and the Subjunctive.

The mood that we use depends on how we are using the verb—the mode, or manner.


This is the mood we use to indicate, or declare, something, or to ask a simple question.

‘The people employed by this company enjoy working here.’

‘Do they like it here?’


This is when we tell someone to do something.

Finish this report first before you start working on the meeting minutes.’

Go away.’


The final mood is the subjunctive. This is used when we want to express doubt, supposition or uncertainty, or when some future action depends upon a contingency.

‘He would not have failed his licensing examination if he had not been ill.’ (progressive subjunctive).

‘If I were to cancel the meeting tomorrow, would it be too difficult for you to reschedule it to a day next week?’

We don’t use the subjunctive much in English these days—and it is more common in written English than in spoken English. There’s quite a useful summary of the subjunctive and its use on the BBC Learning English website.


Some books also include the infinitive as a mood. The infinitive, or ‘to’ form, is the verb in its broadest sense with no reference to who, where or when.

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