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Subjunctive mood usually starts with if. It seems: If you are happy/if you were happy (both are right) If you were me (right) / if you are me (wrong) If you want to learn English / if you wanted to learn English (which is right?) Which is subjunctive mood?

  • None of them. The subjunctive is a clause type that uses the plain form of the verb, as in "It is vital that I be kept informed". – BillJ Mar 17 at 14:35
  • "If I were you" is not subjunctive mood? – Chenxi Mar 17 at 14:42
  • It is in out-of date grammar. Modern grammar calls the "were" in "If I were you" the irrealis mood. See here: link – BillJ Mar 17 at 15:02
  • Please show you effort first, such as a grammar tutorial. – WXJ96163 Mar 21 at 3:31
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1: If you want to learn English, ELL is the site to use.
2: If you wanted to learn English, ELL would be the site to use.

I couldn't really argue with anyone who wanted to swap is / would be in those examples. The versions as given are certainly more likely, but it's not obvious to me that the alternatives would be "ungrammatical".

But consider a context like ringing through to room service in a hotel, where the person who answers might say...

[Hotel reception speaking...]
3: ... what do you want?
4: ... what did you want?

Both Present and "Past" are perfectly idiomatic there, but I've used "scare quotes" because I see no good reason to classify my example #4 as being significantly different to #2.

Maybe some people would say #2 is "Subjunctive", whereas #4 is "Past", but that doesn't seem a useful distinction to me.

I think English only really has 2 tenses (Present and "Not-Present"), and #4 is a typical example of "Not-Present" being used to "distance" the speaker from the utterance (introducing "hesitance, deference", characteristic of many formal contexts). A bit like asking Who might you be? rather than Who are you?, for example.


TL:DR: Using "Not-Present" verb forms in English doesn't necessarily have anything to do with time-based relationships. Example #2 above is just a common way of making the assertion more "politely tentative" (arguably implying more strongly than #1 that perhaps you might not want to learn English anyway).

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