Lesson 21 – Subjunctive

So far all of the verbs that we have encountered have been in what is called the indicative mood. However three moods of a verb exist in Latin.

The indicative mood expresses facts.
The imperative mood expresses commands.
The subjunctive expresses an element of uncertainty, often a wish, desire, doubt or hope.

For example:

I am happy Indicative
Be happy Imperative
I wish I were happy Subjunctive

Whereas other modern languages such as Spanish and Italian have retained this subjunctive mood, it exists in modern English only rarely, primarily in old phrases and mottos.

For example:

Requiescat in pace – May (s)he rest in peace
Floreat Etona – Let Eton flourish

The subjunctive exists in four tenses: the present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect. It occurs in both the active and passive voice. In addition to this, the endings of subjunctive verbs can alter across the conjugations. It is very important therefore to use the grammar tables frequently until you become more familiar with them.

Handy hint

Two common, irregular verbs in the subjunctive are ‘esse,’ -to be and ‘posse’, -‘to be able’ and it is well worth spending some time looking at the forms these take in the grammar table.

Active tenses

In the subjunctive mood, all of the active tenses share the following endings:

Latin English
-m I
-s you (singular)
-t he/she/it
-mus we
-tis you (plural)
-nt they

Present tense

First conjugation

Remove ‘-are’ from the present infinitive, add ‘-e’ and then the relevant ending above.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

+ e + relevant ending
voc + e + m    = vocem – I may call

Second conjugation

Remove ‘-re’ from the present infinitive of the verb to get the stem, add ‘-a’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

habeo, habere, habui, habitum (2) to have

stem + a + relevant ending
habe + a + m    = habeam – I may have

Third conjugation

Remove ‘-ere’ from the present infinitive to get the stem, add ‘-a’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

solvo, solvere, solvi, solutum (3) to pay

stem + a + relevant ending
solv + a + m    = solvam – I may pay

Fourth conjugation

Remove ‘-re’ from the present infinitive to get the stem, add ‘-a’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

scio, sciire, scivi, scitum (4)

stem + a + relevant ending
sci + a + m  = sciam – I may know

Handy hint

In the present tense, the subjunctive can be spotted by the ‘-e’ in the first conjugations, and the ‘-a’ in the second, third and fourth.

Imperfect tense

All conjugations

Add the relevant endings above to the present infinitive form of the verb.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

present infinitive + relevant ending
vocare + m    = vocarem – I might call

Perfect tense

All conjugations

Remove ‘-i’ from the perfect tense of the verb to get the stem ‘-eri’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

stem + eri + relevant ending
vocav + eri+ m    = vocaverim – I may have called

Pluperfect tense

All conjugations

Add ‘-sse’ to the perfect root of the verb (this gives you the perfect infinitive form) and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1)

perfect stem + sse + relevant ending
vocavi + sse + m  = vocavissem – I might have called

Passive tenses

In the subjunctive mood, the present and imperfect passive tenses share the following endings:

Latin English
-r I
-ris you (singular)
-tur he/she/it
-mur we
-mini you (plural)
-ntur they

Present tense

First conjugation

Remove ‘-are’ from the present infinitive to get the stem, add ‘-e’ and then the relevant ending above.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

stem + e + relevant ending
voc + e + r    = vocer – I may be called

Second conjugation

Remove ‘-re’ from the present infinitive of the verb to get the stem, add ‘-a’ to the stem and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

habeo, habere, habui, habitum (2) to have

stem + a + relevant ending
habe + a + r    = habear – I may be had

Third conjugation

Remove ‘-ere’ from the present infinitive to get the stem, add ‘-a’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

solvo, solvere, solvi, solutum (3) to pay

stem + a + relevant ending
solv + a + r    = solvar – I may be paid / handed over as money

Fourth conjugation

Remove ‘-re’ from the present infinitive to get the stem, add ‘-a’ and then the relevant endings above.

For example:

scio, scire, scivi, scitum (4)

stem + a + relevant ending
sci + a + r    = sciar – I may be known

Imperfect tense

All conjugations

Add the relevant endings above to the present infinitive form of the verb.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

present infinitive + relevant ending
vocare + r    = vocarer – I might be called

Perfect tense

In the subjunctive mood, the perfect and pluperfect tenses are formed by adding the relevant form of ‘esse’, – ‘to be’ – to the past participle of the verb.

Remember

The past participle acts as an adjective and therefore agrees with the subject.

Latin English
sim I may have been
sis you may have been
sit he/she/it may have been
simus we may have been
sitis you may have been
sint they may have been

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

past participle + relevant part of ‘esse’
vocatus, -a, -um + sim    = vocatus sim – I may have been called

Pluperfect tense

Latin English
essem I might have been
esses you might have been
esset he/she/it might have been
essemus we might have been
essetis you might have been
essent they might have been

Handy hint

You may also come across the alternative ‘fuissem’ for ‘essem’.

For example:

voco, vocare, vocavi, vocatum (1) to call

past participle + relevant part of ‘esse’
vocatus, -a, -um + essem  = vocatus essem – I might have been called

Passive tenses

When you will encounter the subjunctive

  1. Desires, wishes, proclamations: The most common use of the subjunctive is to express someone’s hope for an action to occur, particularly if there is an element of uncertainty attached to that action.You will find this use throughout the documentation you look at, particularly in charters and deeds, where it often occurs at the beginning of the text.For example:Pateat universis…
    Let it be known to all…Sciant presentes et future…
    Know [men] present and future…Scias…
    Know you…
    (May you know that…)
  2. ‘Ut’ and ‘ne’: You will often notice ‘ut’ and ‘ne’ introducing a subjunctive clause.
    1. One occasion where you will see this happening is when a subjunctive is used to express a command or order rather than an imperative. This is called the jussive subjunctive (from the verb jubeo, jubere, jussi, jussum (2) – to order). In this case, you will notice that ‘ut’ introduces a positive command and ‘ne’ introduces a negative one.

    For example:

    Preceptum est ut Adam commune habeat
    It is ordered that Adam should have common land

    Preceptum est ne Adam commune habeat
    It is ordered that Adam should not have common land

    A negative order or command can also be expressed using ‘quod’ and ‘nullus, -a, -um’ with the subjunctive.

    For example:

    Preceptum est quod Adam habeat nullum commune
    It is ordered that Adam should have no common land

    1. A second occasion where you will see this happening is when ‘ut’ and ‘ne’ are used to introduce purpose. Just as before, ‘ut’ is used to indicate a positive purpose and ‘ne’ a negative purpose.

    In this case, ‘ut’ is translated as ‘in order that’ or ‘so that’.

    For example:

    Et ut audiret communicacionem…
    And in order that he might hear the communication…

    Ne’ is translated ‘in order that…not’, ‘so that…not’, ‘lest, ‘to avoid’, ‘to prevent’.

    Et ne audiret communicacionem…
    And in order that he might not hear the communication…
    And so that he might not hear the communication…
    And lest he might hear the communication…

  3. Conditions: You will encounter this use of the subjunctive frequently in wills and deeds, to express what should happen in the event of a death.One of the most common examples is:Si contingat…
    If it should happen…contingo, contingere, contigi, contactum (3) to happen, befall, come to pass
  4. After ‘cum’: The subjunctive often appears in clauses where ‘cum’ means ‘although’, ‘since’ or ‘whereas’.For example, in court rolls such a clause often appears in entries where a reference to an event at the previous court is included.For example:Cum Simo ad ultimam curiam apparuerit, ad istam curiam venit…
    Whereas Simon appeared [literally ‘he may have appeared’] at the last court, he has come to this court…
    Simo, Simonis (m.) Simon
    appareo, apparere, apparui, apparitum (2) to appear
  5. Concealed questionsYou will probably encounter this in documents relating to inquiries, with a form of
    ‘An inquiry is to be held’ + question word (when/where/if/whether/why/how etc.).For example:Lucia rogat pro inquisitione habenda si sit uxor NicholaiLucy asks for an inquiry to be held [as to] whether she is the wife of Nicholas

Checklist

Are you confident with

  • the meaning of active subjunctive tenses?
  • the form of active subjunctive tenses?
  • the meaning of passive subjunctive tenses?
  • the form of passive subjunctive tenses?
  • when you will encounter the subjunctive?
  • how to translate the subjunctive?

What next?