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These are excerpts from different grammar books.

  • Modality is said to be implemented grammatically through these moods: indicative, imperative, subjunctive.
  • Mood express modality by grammatical morphological means.

My question is: since modal verbs express modality, what type of mood do they belong to? Subjunctive? Why? why not?

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  • Mood is a verbal category expressing various kinds of modality. It is mainly marked in English by modal auxiliaries. There is no inflectional mood system in English, the were of "I wish that were true" being an isolated irrealis mood form. The subjunctive is thus not a mood form but a type of syntactic construction containing the plain form of the verb, as in "It is vital that I be kept informed".
    – BillJ
    Oct 17, 2021 at 15:46

1 Answer 1

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Modern English, apart from a few vestiges, does not express mood by morphology: instead, it has a range of modals (such as will, can, must, should) each of which has its own range of meanings.

Some of them can be used to translate particular morphological constructions in other languages: but in my view nothing is gained by trying to put labels on the English constructions according to which modal (or none) is used.

"Subjunctive" is a case in point: in many European languages (including Old English) this refers to a particular morphological form of a verb - not to a construction. The old English subjunctive survives in a few places, notably in the irrealis conditional "If he were...".

Some people refer to some other constructions with modals such as would as "subjunctive", apparently because if they were translated into French or Latin they would be expressed by a subjunctive. I think this is obfuscatory and unhelpful.

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  • Colin Fine, thank you very much! By Subjucntive i have, frankly, understood constructions like "it is important that it be done", they seem to be still used in Modern English. Thank you for a clear explanation!
    – IRINA
    Oct 17, 2021 at 15:02
  • @IRINA It is important he leave early. That is also called subjunctive by some.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2021 at 17:32
  • You're right, that some people call that subjunctive. I prefer to say that in that construction many people use the base form of the verb. Since the so-called "present subjunctive" is identical to the base form for every verb in the English language, I think it introduces unnecessary complication to give it a different name.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 17, 2021 at 19:59

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