Subjunctive Mood on GMAT Sentence Correction
“If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go.” — Justin Bieber, from his song “Boyfriend”
I recently started learning Spanish and it’s been an interesting experience. For the first few months, I’ve been working on learning the most basic verb tenses: Simple present, simple past, simple future, and even the past-perfect tense. I thought I was doing well. Then, as if to humble me a little bit, my professor introduced the subjunctive verb tense (mood). Ouch. Now I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of being able to speak Spanish at an advanced level. Unfortunately, the same is true in English. Even for native English speakers, using the subjunctive tense correctly can be difficult. There are certain instances when the subjunctive mood is required instead of a “normal” verb tense, and the GMAT will test your ability to detect those instances. Let’s take a closer look.
Verb Tenses on the GMAT
The overarching understanding when it comes to verb tenses on GMAT sentence correction questions is that chronology in a sentence needs to be clearly expressed by the use of the proper verb tense.
The most commonly tested verb tenses on the GMAT are:
- Simple present – “I run…”
- Simple past – “I ran…”
- Simple future – “I will run…”
- Past perfect – “I had run…”
- Present perfect – “I have run…”
Example: John wanted to have gone to the movies.
(A) wanted to have gone
(B) had wanted to have gone
(C) wanted to go
(D) wanted to have went
(E) had wanted to have went
Obviously the answer is C. The action in the sentence, i.e. John going to the movies, simply needs to be expressed with the simple past verb tense “John wanted” followed by the infinitive “to go.” Nothing too difficult about that.
The most commonly tested “difficult” verb tense on the GMAT, however, is the past-perfect tense. In fact, when you have a sense on a GMAT sentence correction question that verb tense might be one of the points of grammar being tested, always check to see if the past-perfect tense is what should be used.
Rule: When two events happened in the past, use the past-perfect tense to show which one happened furthest in the past
WRONG: I never saw such a beautiful sunset before I went to Kaui. (WRONG)
CORRECT: I had never seen such a beautiful sunset before I went to Kaui.
For a more in-depth look at the past-perfect tense and exactly how to use it in various situations on the GMAT, check out our video lesson “GMAT Sentence Correction – Part 2.”
In addition to the main verb tenses discussed above, advanced English expression also requires the correct usage of the subjunctive mood. Why is it called a “mood” instead of a verb tense? Your guess is as good as mine!
(Okay, that’s not quite true; I do know why it’s called a mood (technically, verb “mood” expresses what the writer believes about the action expressed by the verb, i.e. what his mood about it is), but it’s largely irrelevant to you getting right answers on the GMAT. Just stick with what is taught below and you’ll be good to go).
The Subjunctive Mood is used in two situations:
Situation 1: Proposals, desires, and requests
This is the most common situation in which the subjunctive is used on the GMAT. It’s used when the action expressed in the sentence is a “bossy” action, i.e. with verbs such as require, propose, or demand that tell someone what to do or express preference in strong terms.
Idiomatically, this subjunctive situation always requires the “bossy” verb followed by the word “that.”
Bossy verb + “that” + subject + subjunctive
Example 1: I REQUIRE THAT you study your GMAT grammar rules.
Example: It is ESSENTIAL THAT Tom be ready on time.
General: Use the bare form of the verb, which is the infinitive without the “to.” Note that this is just like the Simple Present conjugation.
Exception 1: There is no -S on the end for the third person singular.
WRONG: We PROPOSE THAT the size of the club SHRINKS.
CORRECT: We PROPOSE THAT the size of the club SHRINK.
Exception 2: The form of the verb “to be” is always just “be” (not “is,” “are,” or “am”).
Example 1: His demand that he BE paid overtime was not met.
Example 2: It is essential that Suzy BE early for her appointment.
Situation 2: Hypothetical situations
This form usually occurs after hypothetical words like “if,” “as if,” or “as though.”
Format & Conjugation:
Use the Simple Past of the verb.
Exception: For the verb “to be,” the form “were” is always used.
Example 1: If I WERE a rich man, I would buy a new car.
Example 2: If she was to decide to go to college, I, for one, would recommend that she plan to go to Yale.
(A) If she was to decide to go to college
(B) If she were to decide to go to college
(C) Had she decided to go to college
(D) In the event that she decides to go to college
(E) Supposing she was to decide to go to college
(The correct answer for Example 2 above is B)
Using “WERE” with subjunctive verbs
Let’s reiterate this aspect of the 2nd situation above: The subjunctive mood should be used whenever something is hoped, wanted, or imagined:
- “I wish that the weather were better.”
- “I demand you go to the store immediately for more chewing tobacco.”
Rule: When the subjunctive is used in the past tense, the form of the verb “to be” should be “were” for all cases!
- “I wish I were taller”
- “She acts as if she were the Queen of England.”
Try your hand at this final example and post your answer in the “comment” area below:
Example: Throughout the course of the study session, and into the wee hours of the morning, I began to strongly wish that I was a better geometry student.
(A) I was a better geometry student
(B) I have been a better geometry student
(C) I were a better geometry student
(D) I has been a better geometry student
(E) I am a better geometry student