If the main clause is in the subjunctive mood, we have to use the past verb in the subordinate clause in order to shift the whole sentence in some hypothetical dimension, right? But in the following example, the present tense is used even though it is obvious that the writer supposes a hypothetical situation. The mix of the subjunctive and indicative mood. Is it possible?

If someone told you that your aunt is ill, you would probably assume that she has cancer, heart disease, had an accident, or came down with a common cold. What these conditions have in common is that they are all physical ailments.

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1 Answer 1


First rule of the subjunctive is "Don't use the subjunctive." In most situations the English subjunctive is entirely obsolete, and has been replaced by modal verbs, or simple indicative expressions, with the subjective sense implied by context.

So the given example is correct English.

It would have been possible for the author to have used "were".

If someone were to tell you ...

You might then backshift the verb "she was ill". That is a function of the reported speech. But you would not use the English subjunctive, "your aunt be ill" or "she have cancer".

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