Verbs

Syntax

English verbs possess a number of properties that make them somewhat unusual among other Germanic languages. All English verbs can be derived from a maximum of three principal parts. This represents an extensive paring down of the inflectional categories of the more conservative Germanic languages. Because of this, the strict distinction between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs observed in some other languages find no part in English grammar. In English, both of these sentences are equally possible:

The water is boiling. (Effectively, a middle voice; compare the water is being boiled.)

The chef is boiling the water.

English formerly possessed inflections that allowed transitive and intransitive verbs to be distinguished. A few of these distinctions were incorporated into the lexicon: e.g. fall vs. fell (cause to fall); lie vs. lay (cause to lie). Modern English verbs freely switch their valence and can take from zero to two predicates if they are supportable by the meaning:

She gives.

She gives books.

She gives him books.

Because English verbs have free valence, and there is no necessary relationship between a verb subject and the agent, English allows the formation of sentences that some other languages would resist. The verb subject may stand in several different case relationships to the topic:

Instrumental: That book will make us a million dollars.

cf. We will make a million dollars with that book.

Origin: The dam is leaking water.

cf. Water is leaking from the dam.

Location: The forest rustles with dead leaves.

cf. Dead leaves rustle in the forest.

Topical: This construction project cannot proceed.

cf. We cannot proceed with this construction project.

English does not allow pronoun dropping, and all verbs must have an explicit subject, even where there is no specific agent. Dummy pronouns are inserted even where no agent is identifiable:

It is raining.

Even sentences that declare the existence of something require a deictic particle to be well formed in English:

There is a river.

This is a lake.

The deixis relates to the tense of the verb. “There” is the default, unmarked particle; “here” is also possible, but does imply proximity to the speaker:

There is a river

Here is a river

The past is remote by definition. There was a river is normal; but *here was a river is unusual: it either represents poetic diction, or suggests that the river that once was here is no longer present.[1]

Principal parts

A regular English verb has only one principal part, the infinitive or dictionary form (which is identical to the simple present tense for all persons and numbers except the third person singular). All other forms of a regular verb can be derived straightforwardly from the infinitive, for a total of four forms (e.g. exist, exists, existed, existing).

English irregular verbs (except to be, do, say and have) have at most three principal parts:[citation needed]

Part Example
1 infinitive write
2 preterite Wrote
3 past participle Written

Strong verbs like write have all three distinct parts, for a total of five forms (e. g. write, writes, wrote, written, writing). The more irregular weak verbs also require up to three forms to be learned. Additionally, the verbs do, say, and have have irregular forms in the present tense third-person singular (although the first two are only irregular in speech).

The highly irregular copular verb to be has eight forms: be, am, is, are, being, was, were, and been (in addition to the archaic forms art, wast, wert, and beest), of which only one is derivable from a principal part (being is derived from be). On the history

of this verb, see Indo-European copula.

Verbs had more forms when the pronoun thou was still in regular use and there was a number distinction in the second person. To be, for instance, had art, wast and wert.

Most of the strong verbs that survive in modern English are considered irregular. Irregular verbs in English come from several historical sources; some are technically strong verbs (i.e., their forms display specific vowel changes of the type known as ablaut in linguistics); others have had various phonetic changes or contractions added to them over the history of English.

Infinitive and basic form

Formation

The infinitive in English is the naked root form of the word. When it is being used as a verbal noun, the particle to is usually prefixed to it. When the infinitive stands as the predicate of an auxiliary verb, to may be omitted, depending on the requirements of the idiom.

 Uses

The infinitive, in English, is one of three verbal nouns: To write is to learn also “writing is learning”

The infinitive, either marked with to or unmarked, is used as the complement of many auxiliary verbs: I shall/will write a novel about talking beavers; I am really going to write it.

The basic form also forms the English imperative mood: Write these words.

The basic form makes the English subjunctive mood: I suggested that he write a novel about talking beavers.

Third person singular

Formation

The third person singular in regular verbs in English is distinguished by the suffix -s. In English spelling, this -s is added to the stem of the infinitive form: runruns.

If the base ends in one of the sibilant sounds: /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ and its spelling does not end in a silent E, the suffix is written -es: buzzbuzzes; catchcatches. If the base ends in a consonant plus y, the y changes to an i and -es is affixed to the end: crycries. Verbs ending in o typically add -es: vetovetoes.

Regardless of spelling, the pronunciation of the third person singular ending in most dialects follows regular rules:

pronounced /ɨz/ after sibilants

/s/ after voiceless consonants other than sibilants.

/z/ otherwise

The third person singular present indicative in English is notable cross-linguistically for being a morphologically marked form for a semantically unmarked one. That is to say, the third person singular is usually taken to be the most basic form in a given verbal category and as such, according to markedness theory, should have the simplest of forms in its paradigm. This is clearly not the case with English where the other persons exhibit the bare root and nothing more.

In Early Modern English, some dialects distinguished the third person singular with the suffix -th; after consonants this was written -eth, and some consonants were doubled when this was added: runrunneth.

Usage

The third person singular is used exclusively in the third person form of the English simple “present tense”, which often has other uses besides the simple present: He writes airport novels about anthropomorphic rodents.

Exception

English preserves a number of preterite-present verbs, such as can and may. These verbs lack a separate form for the third person singular: she can, she may. All surviving preterite-present verbs in modern English are auxiliary verbs. The verb will, although historically not a preterite-present verb, is inflected like one when used as an auxiliary; by a process of levelling it has become regular when it is a full verb: Whatever she wills to happen will make life annoying for everyone else.

Present participle

Formation

The present participle is formed by adding the suffix -ing to the base form: gogoing.

The ending in most dialects is pronounced /ɪŋ/, and the pronunciation of the root does not change.

If the base ends in silent e, the e is dropped: believebelieving.

If the e is not silent, the e is retained: agreeagreeing.

If the base ends in -ie, the ie is changed to y: lielying.

If:

the base form ends in a single consonant; and

a single vowel precedes that consonant; and

the last syllable of the base form is stressed

then the final consonant is doubled before adding the suffix: setsetting; occuroccurring.

In British English, as an exception, the final <l> is subject to doubling even when the last syllable is not stressed: yodelyodelling, traveltravelling; in American English, these follow the rule: yodeling, traveling.

Irregular forms include:

singeing, where the e is (sometimes) not dropped to avoid confusion with singing;

ageing, in British English, where the expected form aging is ambiguous as to whether it has a hard or soft g;

words ending in -c, which add k before the -ing, for example, trafficking, panicking, frolicking, and bivouacking.

a number of words that are subject to the doubling rule even though they do not fall squarely within its terms, such as diagramming, kidnapping, and worshipping.

Uses

Basic Use

The present participle is used to form a past, present or future tense with progressive or imperfective aspect: He is writing another long book about beavers.

It is used with quasi-auxiliaries to form verb phrases: He tried writing about opossums instead, but his muse deserted him.

It is modified by an adverb: He is writing quickly.

It can be used as an adjective: It is a thrilling book.

In this use, it can govern a personal pronoun: Her thrilling novel.

NB: Other words also end in -ing, notably certain nouns formed from verbs (verbal nouns) and the gerund. These are usually considered different entities. However, since there is a lack of consensus for this view, these are considered here.

Gerund

The English gerund is that form of a verb that acts as a noun but retains its identity as a verb. Since it has different properties from the Verbal noun in -ing (below) these two forms are usually, but not always, considered to be separate entities. The gerund has indeed been dubbed a Nounal verb to help distinguish these two uses of the -ing form, but this term is not normal.

The gerund is formed by adding -ing to the base form in the same manner as the present participle; pronunciation is also identical to that of the present participle.

The gerund can often be distinguished from the present participle by inserting the words the act of before it, (though this is true of the verbal noun, too): I enjoy [the act of] drinking wine.

The gerund acts as a noun by standing at the head of a noun phrase: …drinking wine (in the above context).

It can stand alone in this role: I enjoy drinking.

The gerund remains a verb because it is modified by an adverb not by an adjective: I enjoy drinking wine slowly. [Not: …drinking wine slow].

The gerund is typically modified by a possessive determiner or a noun in possessive case I do not like your/Jim’s drinking wine, though it is also frequently found with a personal pronoun or a simple noun: I do not like you/Jim drinking wine. See below for an explanation of this usage. Note that this is a contentious issue.

The gerund can be used as:

a subject: Drinking wine is enjoyable or Drinking is enjoyable.

an object: I enjoy drinking wine or I enjoy drinking.

a prepositional object: I do not believe in drinking wine for pleasure or …drinking for pleasure.

a predicate nominal: Jim’s idea of fun is drinking large quantities of wine.

A gerund can often be replaced by an infinitive with to: I like drinking wine or I like to drink wine.

Note on possessives and personal pronouns used with the -ing form

NB: Contentious

There are several possessive forms in English: possessive pronoun, possessive determiner, and the possessive case of nouns. The first governs or is governed by a verb, not a noun: This book is mine [not Mine book]. The second governs or is governed by a noun (or a word acting as a noun), not a verb: my book [not This book is my]. The last can govern or be governed by either: This is Helen’s book (noun) or This book is Helen’s (verb). Furthermore, there is the personal pronoun which also governs or is governed by verbs, not nouns: he saw her [not he book].

Since the gerund is technically a verb not a noun it might seem reasonable to assume that it should govern or be governed by a personal pronoun or a possessive pronoun. However, this is not usually accepted as correct because the gerund is in fact acting as a noun while retaining verbal properties. Hence, we have as standard English:

Jim does not like my reading magazines.

not: Jim does not like me reading magazines.

In the first construction, reading is used as a true gerund. The second construction is often disallowed by grammars and the use of the word reading is given names like fused participle and geriple[2] since it is seen to confuse a participle with a gerund. The alternate view is to see it as a genuine particle governing a personal pronoun in the objective case (as well as a nouns as an indirect object), but this is not typical.

It is more often argued, however, that both of the following are correct but with different meanings:

Jim does not like me flying.

Jim does not like my flying.

The first example seems to imply that Jim does not like my presence in a vehicle that flies whether I am in control of that vehicle or am merely a passenger. Again, this is seen as a participle but this time only governing a direct object without an indirect object. The second example seems to comment on my abilities to control the vehicle rather than my presence in the plane. The second is again a true gerund. It could be rewritten:

Jim does not like my act of flying or Jim does not like my attempts at flying.

The controversy extends to the use of the possessive case in nouns:

Jim does not like Helen flying.

Jim does not like Helen’s flying.

Jim does not like Helen flying airplanes.

Jim does not like Helen’s flying airplanes.

The use of the possessive pronoun is probably best avoided:

Jim does not like mine [e.g. my children] flying.

Jim does not like mine [e.g. my children] flying airplanes.

As is the use of any combination of each of these:

Jim does not like my children’s flying airplanes.

Verbal Nouns

The verbal noun is a noun formed from a verb: arrival, drinking, flight, decision.

Note that many verbal nouns end in -ing, but they are actually nouns and not verbs.

It acts as a normal noun.

It can, like other nouns, act as an adjective: a writing desk, building beavers, a flight simulator, departure lounge.

Past participle

Formation

In regular weak verbs, the past participle is always the same as the preterite.

Irregular verbs may have separate preterites and past participles;

Uses

The past participle is used with the auxiliary have for the English perfect tenses: They have written about the slap of tails on water, about the scent of the lodge… (With verbs of motion, an archaic form with be may be found in older texts: he is come.)

With be, it forms the passive voice: It is written so well, you can feel what it is like to gnaw down trees!

It is used as an adjective: the written word; a broken dam.

Tenses

English verbs, like those in many other western European languages, have more tenses than forms; tenses beyond the ones possible with the five forms listed above are formed with auxiliary verbs, as are the passive voice forms of these verbs. Important auxiliary verbs in English include will, used to form the future tense; shall, formerly used mainly for the future tense, but now used mainly for commands and directives; be, have, and do, which are used to form the supplementary tenses of the English verb, to add aspect to the actions they describe, or for negation.

English verbs display complex forms of negation. While simple negation was used well into the period of early Modern English (Touch not the royal person!) in contemporary English negation usually requires that the negative particle be attached to an auxiliary verb such as do or be. I go not is archaic; I do not go or I am not going are what the contemporary idiom requires.

English exhibits similar idiomatic complexity with the interrogative mood, which in Indo-European languages is not, strictly speaking, a mood. Like many other Western European languages, English historically allowed questions to be asked by inverting the position of verb and subject: Whither goest thou? Now, in English, questions are often trickily idiomatic, and require the use of auxiliary verbs, though occasionally, the interrogative mood is still used in Modern English.

Overview of tenses

In English grammar, tense refers to any conjugated form expressing time, aspect or mood. The large number of different composite verb forms means that English has the richest and subtlest system of tense and aspect of any Germanic language. This can be confusing for foreign learners; however, English tenses can be considered clear and systematic once one understands that, in each of the three time spheres (present, past and future), there exists a basic or simple form which can then be made either progressive (continuous), perfect, or both.

Basic Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive
Present I write I am writing I have written I have been writing
Past I wrote I was writing I had written I had been writing
Future I shall/will write I shall/will be writing I shall/will have written I shall/will have been writing

Because of the neatness of this system, modern textbooks on English generally use the terminology in this table. What was traditionally called the “perfect” is here called “present perfect” and the “pluperfect” becomes “past perfect”, in order to show the relationships of the perfect forms to their respective simple forms. Whereas in other Germanic languages, or in Old English, the “perfect” is just a past tense, the English “present perfect” has a present reference; it is both a past tense and a present tense, describing the connection between a past event and a present state.

However, historical linguists sometimes prefer terminology which applies to all Germanic languages and is more helpful for comparative purposes; when describing wrote as a historical form, for example, we would say “preterite” rather than “past simple”.

This table, of course, omits a number of forms which can be regarded as additional to the basic system:

the intensive present I do write

the intensive past I did write

the habitual past I used to write

the “shall future” I shall write

the “going-to future” I am going to write

the “future in the past” I was going to write

the conditional I would write

the perfect conditional I would have written

the subjunctive, if I be writing, if I were writing.

Some systems of English grammar eliminate the future tense altogether, treating will/would simply as modal verbs, in the same category as other modal verbs such as can/could and may/might.

Present simple

Affirmative: He writes

Negative: He does not write

Interrogative: Does he write?

Negative interrogative: Does he not write?

Note that the “simple present” in idiomatic English often identifies habitual or customary action:

He writes about beavers (understanding that he does so all of the time.)

It is used with stative verbs:

She thinks that beavers are remarkable

It can also have a future meaning (though much less commonly than in many other languages):

She goes to Milwaukee on Tuesday.

The present simple has an intensive or emphatic form with “do”: He does write. In the negative and interrogative forms, of course, this is identical to the non-emphatic forms. It is typically used as a response to the question Does he write, whether that question is expressed or implied, and says that indeed, he does write.

The different syntactic behavior of the negative particle not and the negative inflectional suffix -n’t in the interrogative form is also worth noting. In formal literary English of the sort in which contractions are avoided, not attaches itself to the main verb: Does he not write? When the colloquial contraction -n’t is used, this attaches itself to the auxiliary do: Doesn’t he write? This in fact is a contraction of a more archaic word order, still occasionally found in poetry: *Does not he write?

Present progressive

Or present continuous.

Affirmative: He is writing

Negative: He is not writing

Interrogative: Is he writing?

Negative interrogative: Is he not writing?

This form describes the simple engagement in a present activity, with the focus on action in progress “at this very moment”. It too can indicate a future, particularly when discussing plans already in place: I am flying to Paris tomorrow. Used with “always” it suggests irritation; compare He always does that (neutral) with He is always doing that (and it annoys me). Word order differs here in the negative interrogative between the more formal is he not writing and the colloquial contraction isn’t he writing?

Present perfect

Traditionally just called the perfect.

Affirmative: He has written

Negative: He has not written

Interrogative: Has he written?

Negative interrogative: Has he not written?

This indicates that a past event has one of a range of possible relationships to the present. This may be a focus on present result: He has written a very fine book (and look, here it is, we have it now). Alternatively, it may indicate a period which includes the present. I have lived here since my youth (and I still do). Compare: Have you written a letter this morning? (it is still morning) with Did you write a letter this morning? (it is now afternoon). The perfect tenses are frequently used with the adverbs already or recently or with since clauses. The present perfect can identify habitual (I have written letters since I was ten years old.) or continuous (I have lived here for fifteen years.) action.

In addition to these normal uses where the time frame either is the present or includes the present, the “have done” construct is used in temporal clauses where other languages would use the future perfect: When you have written it, show it to me. It also forms a perfect infinitive, used when infinitive constructions require a past perspective: Mozart is said to have written his first symphony at the age of eight. (Notice that if not for the need of an infinitive, the simple past would have been used here: He wrote it at age eight.) The past infinitive is also used in the conditional perfect.

The term “perfect tense” was first applied in discussions of Latin grammar, to refer to a tense which expresses a completed action (“perfect” in the sense of “finished”). It was then applied to a French tense which has a similar use to the Latin perfect, and then was transferred to the English tense which looks morphologically something like the French perfect. In fact, the English perfect is often used precisely in situations where Latin would use the imperfect — for past actions which are not finished but continue into the present.

Present perfect progressive

Or continuous.

Affirmative: He has been writing

Negative: He has not been writing

Interrogative: Has he been writing?

Negative interrogative: Has he not been writing?

Used for unbroken action in the past which continues right up to the present. I have been writing this paper all morning (and still am).

Present Perfect Continuous is used for denoting the action which was in progress and has just finished (a) or is still going on (b). For example,

a) Why are your eyes red? – I have been crying since morning. (The action has already finished but was in progress for some time)

b) She has been working here for two years already and she is happy. (The action is still in progress).

If we have to ask a question with “How long…?” we should use the present perfect continuous. For example,

How long have you been working here?

However, with stative words (such as see, want, like, etc.), or if the situation is considered permanent, we should use the present perfect simple. For example,

I have known her since childhood.

If we talk about the whole period, we use “for” and when we talk about the starting point of the action, we use “since”.

Preterite (Simple Past Tense)

The preterite is used for the English simple (non-iterative or progressive) past tense. He wrote two more chapters about the dam at Kashagawigamog Lake.

Affirmative: He wrote

Negative: He did not write

Interrogative: Did he write?

Negative interrogative: Did he not write?

This tense is used for a single event in the past, sometimes for past habitual action, and in chronological narration. Like the present simple, it has emphatic forms with “do”: he did write.

Although it is sometimes taught that the difference between the present perfect and the past simple is negligible, the two are quite distinct:

I ate fish (Simple statement of event[s] occurring in the past. Nothing about present state.)

I have eaten fish (My present status as someone who has eaten fish.)

Note: The “used to” past tense is not the same as the preterite, but is called the imperfect . Compare:

When I was young, I played football every Saturday.

When I was young, I used to play.

Past continuous

was/were+v1+ing Or imperfect or past progressive.

Affirmative: He was writing

Negative: He was not writing

Interrogative: Was he writing?

Negative interrogative: Was he not writing?

This is typically used for two events in parallel:

While I was washing the dishes, my wife was walking the dog.

Or for an interrupted action (the past simple being used for the interruption):

While I was washing the dishes, I heard a loud noise.

Or when we are focusing on a point in the middle of a longer action:

At three o’clock yesterday, I was working in the garden. (Contrast: I worked in the garden all day yesterday.)

Past perfect

Or Pluperfect

Affirmative: He had written

Negative: He had not written

Interrogative: Had he written?

Negative interrogative: Had he not written?

This is used to indicate that the verb refers back to a time in the past before another time also in the past.

This latter could be stated explicitly:

He had left when we arrived.

Or understood from previous information:

I was eating… I had invited Jim to the meal but he was unable to attend. (i.e., I invited him before I started eating)

Or simply implied from the usage itself:

I had lost my way. (i.e., prior to the time I am now describing)

It is sometimes possible to use the Simple Past instead of the Past Perfect, but only where there is no ambiguity in the meaning:

The second example could be written:

… I invited Jim to the meal…

Within the rest of the context, this still means that I first invited Jim then later ate the meal (without him). Consider the following, however:

He left when we arrived.

This means that he left and, at the same time, we arrived. Care is required in choosing the correct wording! The following do mean the same:

He left before we arrived.

He had left before we arrived.

The former may imply a causal connection between the two verbs, e.g. he left because he knew we were coming. The latter sentence does not have the same implication, though neither does it rule out any causal connection.

Past Perfect can also be used to express a counterfactual statement:

If you had done the washing up before we left, you would not need to do it now

Here, the first clause refers to an unreal state in the past, and the entire construction is a conditional sentence.

Pluperfect (Past Perfect) progressive

A.k.a. past perfect progressive

Affirmative: He had been writing

Negative: He had not been writing

Interrogative: Had he been writing?

Negative interrogative: Had he not been writing?

Relates to the past perfect much as the present perfect progressive relates to the present perfect, but tends to be used with less precision.

“I bought the car, and I have been driving it ever since.”

Future simple

Affirmative: He will write

Negative: He will not write

Interrogative: Will he write?

Negative interrogative: Will he not write?

See the article Shall and Will for a discussion of the two auxiliary verbs used to form the simple future in English. There is also a future with “go” which is used especially for intended actions, and for the weather, and generally is more common in colloquial speech:

I am going to write a book some day.

I think that it is going to rain.

The will/shall future, however, is preferred for spontaneous decisions:

Jack: “I think that we should have a barbecue!”

Jill: “Good idea! I shall go get the coal.”

The will future is also used for statements about the present to indicate that they are speculative:

Jack: “I have not eaten a thing all day.”

Jill: “Well, I suppose you will be hungry now.”

Jack: “There is a woman coming up the drive.”

Jill: “That will be my mother.”

Future progressive

Affirmative: He will be writing

Negative: He will not be writing

Interrogative: Will he be writing?

Negative interrogative: Will he not be writing?

Used especially to indicate that an event will be in progress at a particular point in the future: This time tomorrow I shall be taking my driving test.

Future perfect

will/shall+have+v3

Affirmative: He will have written

Negative: He will not have written

Interrogative: Will he have written?

Negative interrogative: Will he not have written?

Used for something which will be completed by a certain time (perfect in the literal sense) or which leads up to a point in the future which is being focused on.

I shall have finished my essay by Thursday.

By then she will have been there for three weeks.

Future perfect progressive

will/shall +have been+v1 +ing

Affirmative: He will have been writing

Negative: He will not have been writing

Interrogative: Will he have been writing?

Negative interrogative: Will he not have been writing?

Used for an event that will be in progression at a certain point in the future. “He will have been writing by 8:00 am (and will continue writing further into the future).”

Conditional present

Affirmative: He would write

Negative: He would not write

Interrogative: Would he write?

Negative interrogative: Would he not write?

Used principally in a main clause accompanied by an implicit or explicit doubt or “if-clause”; may refer to conditional statements in present or future time:

I would like to pay now if it is not too much trouble. (in present time; doubt of possibility is explicit)

I would like to pay now. (in present time; doubt is implicit)

I would do it if she asked me. (in future time; doubt is explicit)

I would do it. (in future time; doubt is implicit)

A humorous formulation of the traditional rule to not put would into the if clause itself is: “If and would you never should, if and will makes teacher ill!”

Some varieties of English regularly use would (often shortened to (I)’d) in if clauses, but this is often considered non-standard: If you’d leave now, you’d be on time. Such use of would is widespread especially in spoken US English in all sectors of society, but these forms are not usually used in writing that is more formal. Nevertheless, some reliable sources simply label this usage as acceptable US English and no longer label it as colloquial.[3][4]

There are exceptions, however, where would is used in British English too in seemingly counterfactual conditions, but these can usually be interpreted as a modal use of would: If you would listen to me once in a while, you might learn something.[5][6] In cases in which the action in the if clause takes place after that in the main clause, use of would in counterfactual conditions is however considered standard and correct usage in even formal UK and US usage: If it would make Bill happy, I’d [I would] give him the money.[5]

Conditional present progressive

Affirmative: He would be writing

Negative: He would not be writing

Interrogative: Would he be writing?

Negative interrogative: Would he not be writing?

Used as the continuous tense of the conditional form; describes a situation that would now be prevailing had it not been for some intervening event:

Today she would be exercising if it were not for her injury.

He would be working today had he not been allowed time off.

(For use of would in both clauses, see note and sources at end of section on [1] above.)

Conditional perfect

Affirmative: He would have written

Negative: He would not have written

Interrogative: Would he have written?

Negative interrogative: Would he not have written?

Used as the past tense of the conditional form; expresses thoughts which are or may be contrary to present fact:

I would have set an extra place if I had known you were coming. (fact that an extra place was not set is implicit; conditional statement is explicit)

I would have set an extra place, but I did not because Mother said you were not coming. (fact that a place was not set is explicit; conditional is implicit)

I would have set an extra place. (fact that a place was not set is implicit, conditional is implicit)

Some varieties of English regularly use would have (often shortened to (I)’d have) in if clauses, but this is often non-standard: If you (would)’ve told me, we could’ve done something about it. Such use of would is widespread especially in spoken US English in all sectors of society, but is incorrect and is not usually used in more formal writing. (See note and sources at end of section on conditional above.)

There are exceptions, however, where would is used in British English too in seemingly counterfactual conditions, but these can usually be interpreted as a modal use of would: If you would have listened to me once in a while, you might have learned something. In cases in which the action in the if clause takes place after that in the main clause, use of would in if clauses is however considered standard and correct usage in even formal UK and US usage: If it would have made Bill happy, I’d [I would] have given him the money. (See note and sources at end of section on conditional above.)

Conditional perfect progressive

Affirmative: He would have been writing.

Negative: He would not have been writing.

Interrogative: Would he have been writing?

Negative interrogative: Would he not have been writing?

(For use of would in both clauses, see note and sources at end of section on conditional above.)

Present subjunctive

The form is always identical to the infinitive. This means that apart from the verb “to be”, it is distinct from the indicative present only in the third person singular and the obsolete second person singular.

To be

Indicative Present: I am, you are, (s) he is, we are, you are, they are.

Subjunctive Present: I be, you be, (s) he be, we be, you be, they be.

It is used to express wishes about the present or future:

“God save our queen.” (Not: God saves our queen)

It is also used in a mandative sense:

“He insisted that his son have a more conventional celebration.”

“It is important that the process be carried out accurately.”

“I shall work for him on condition that he pay me weekly.”

Imperfect subjunctive

The imperfect subjunctive is used to express hypotheses about the present or future: it is used to describe unreal or hypothetical conditions. When conjugated, the imperfect subjunctive is identical to the past simple with every verb, except the verb “to be”. With this verb, the form “were” is used throughout all forms:

Simple past: I was, you were, (s)he was, we were, you were, they were.

Subjunctive Imperfect: I were, you were, (s)he were, we were, you were, they were.

When construed in counterfactual sentences with “if”, it forms the if clause of the 2nd conditional.

Examples include:

“If I were rich, I would retire to the South of France.”

“If I Were a Boy.”

“I’d rather it were more substantial.”

“If I were a rich man….”

Future subjunctive

A future subjunctive can be constructed using the conjugated form of the verb “to be” plus the infinitive or with the usage of the modal auxiliary verb “should”. Note that the “were” clauses result in the present conditional, while the “should” clauses result in the future indicative. For example:

If I were to die tomorrow, then you would inherit everything.

If you were to give the money to me, then I would say no more about it.

If I should go, then will you feed the hens?

If he should fall, who will carry the flag in his place?