The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to express a wish, a suggestion, a command, or a condition that is contrary to fact.(cited from http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/subjunctive_mood.htm)

What does the adjective clause(in bold) modify? Does it only modify "a condition" or modify "a wish, a suggestion, a command, or a condition"?

  • The clause modifies "condition". To stay warm, you can wear mittens, gloves, or scarves that go around your neck.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 15:03
  • 1
    Condition contrary to fact (without the relativizier) is in fact pretty much a fixed phrase in English: conditioncontrarytofact. Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 15:18
  • 4
    I don't recommend Grammar Monster.
    – user230
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 16:48
  • Are you still waiting for a better answer? Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 6:24

5 Answers 5


Given that answerers know about the subjunctive mood, they're right to tell you that in that particular sentence the clause modifies 'condition' only.

However, in general, a sentence of the form you're asking about is ambiguous. The writer may mean for the clause to modify all the items, and was just sloppy about expressing it. Often one can make the distinction based on context, especially due to pauses and intonation in conversation.

There are a few ways one can rephrase such a sentence to eliminate this ambiguity:

Reorder the List Items

If the clause modifies only one item, reorder the items so that it is clear.

Rather than

The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to express a wish, a suggestion, a command, or a condition that is contrary to fact.


The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to express a condition that is contrary to fact, a wish, a suggestion, or a command.

Break it Up

If the clause applies to all the list items, break it apart from any of them.

Rather than

The post office returns packages, letters, or postcards with wrong addresses.


The post office returns items with a bad address, which might be packages, letters, or postcards.


In this use, the condition that is contrary to fact is one that is hypothetical and untrue.

It's probably easiest to illustrate this through examples:

I quit drinking several years ago and someone asks me about my habits.

If I were still drinking I would probably have died by now.

I meet a girl I was secretly in love with in high school and find that she was attracted to me as well, but I'm now married.

If I weren't married then I would sweep you off your feet right now, but I love my wife.

A vicious dog is contained behind a fence, snarling and snapping at passersby.

If that fence weren't there, that dog would have killed someone by now.


If + past subjunctive indicates an irreal condtion. Irrealis was the Latin grammar term that is substituted by a lot of similar terms as hypothetical, contrary to fact and others.

Example from Macbeth. The asterisk indicates subjunctive form for irreal condition:


If it were* done when 'tis done,

'twere* well it were* done quickly.

Macbeth Act I, Scene VII

In today's style:

If it were* done when it's done,

it would be best it would be done quickly.


It modifies "condition" only.

The other words (wish, suggestion, command) are already "contrary to fact", because they haven't happened yet and may not happen. A "condition", however, could be a fact, so the clarifying clause "that is contrary to fact" is needed.


The adjective clause modifies all three.because a relative pronoun modifies its all antecedents joined with coordinate conjunction. Ex- I met a boy and a girl whose dresses were blue.

I saw a man or a woman who was carrying a basket. ( here it means either of the two has a basket. Whether it was a man or a woman)

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