I've seen read a lil bit about subjunctive mood. And the present subjunctive mood works like this: am -> be "I demand that I be available".

I often see wishes like that: "I wish, I would be good in math". But can't I say: "I wish, I be good in math"? Why do people use would here?
It's a past tense.

Or another example:
"If I were you, I would be available". Its common to use it. But I want to describe it in present tense. Why don't I say: "If I be you, I would be available", because when I use that its clear that nothing else then the present is meant.

  • Hello 431. While the question has merit, the way it is presented hints strongly that you need to brush up on more everyday areas of grammar. And then you could do some research; there are plenty of questions addressing the 'subjunctive' (one grammarian even says that the term is a misnomer in English) on ELU. Aug 23, 2021 at 10:06
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    "I wish I would be good in math" doesn't sound natural to a native speaker. It would be more correctly expressed as "I wish I were good at math". Therefore the answer to "why do people use would here?" is simply that they're not using it correctly.
    – jsheeran
    Aug 23, 2021 at 10:10
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    Shakespeare wrote "If this be false", and Patrick Henry said "if this be treason", but today we would use "should be" or "is" in both their sentences. To understand why, you would need to understand the history of the subjunctive in English. (And they didn't mean the same thing as "If this were false" or "if this were treason".) Aug 23, 2021 at 12:57
  • Ok lets say "I wish, I were you" is correct. Why do I have to use a past tense? When I wish, I were you at the moment, I could use the subjunctive present which would be: I wish, I be you. Why cant I use that?
    – user431271
    Aug 23, 2021 at 20:35
  • You can't do that because you don't live in the days of Shakespeare. English no longer uses the present subjunctive after wish. (And even Shakespeare used past subjunctive for present wishes: "I wish // Myself were mudded in that oozy bed // Where my son lies." Present subjunctive was used for future wishes. ) Aug 24, 2021 at 1:10

1 Answer 1


*"I wish I would be good at math" is nonstandard.

Standard English is "I wish I were good at math" (or "maths" in British English).

As you observed, there are two subjunctive forms - although they do not really have anything to do with tense:

  • The "present" subjunctive is mainly used (a) in expressing suggestions or commands, e.g. "He demanded that she leave", (b) in a few set-phrases, e.g. "Long live the Queen", "So be it".
  • The "past" subjunctive only survives for a single verb, "be", in the form of the isolated irrealis mood-form "were". It is used after "wish" and after "if" when expressing unreal non-past conditions.

The "past" subjunctive does not function as the past tense of the "present" subjunctive, nor does it have anything to do with past time. It is "past" only in form.

As for "If I be ...", this is archaic.

  • The past subjunctive survives implicitly in statements like I wish I knew what he thought of me, which uses the past tense even though the sentence has nothing to do with the past. This is what the OP is asking about. He says "It's a past tense ... I want to describe it in present tense ... because ... it's clear that nothing else than the present is meant." The use of were addressed in your answer is a grammatical quirk which is optional in 21st century English, and is well on its way to disappearing completely. Aug 24, 2021 at 17:21
  • On your second point, I agree that this use of were is optional in modern English. There are a few exceptions - you can say "if I was" but you can't use *"was I" with the same meaning, whereas "were I" = "if I were". "Were I motivated enough, I would write a book about the subjunctive."
    – rjpond
    Aug 24, 2021 at 20:30

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