Latin/Lesson 1-Subjunctive

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Intro: 12
Chapter 1 123456
Chapter 2 12345678
Chapter 3 12345678
Chapter 4 12345678910
Chapter 5 123456789


[edit | edit source]

The Subjunctive is one of the three different moods a Latin verb can take. The two other moods are the Indicative and the Imperative. The subjunctive is perhaps the most common and also most difficult to grasp, and there are a great number of different subjunctive uses.

The subjunctive mainly expresses doubt or potential and what could have been. Whereas the indicative declares "this happened" or "that happened," the imperative is called 'jussive,' which is from 'iubere' - to command, bid.

  • "Let me go" and "May I go?" are statements of potential; the speaker is not entirely certain his/her command will be followed.
  • "Were I a king, I would have a golden throne." -this expresses what could be true, but is not. Speaker is not a king, and so will not get the throne.
  • "May the force be with you!" expresses the hope/potential that the force (Star Wars) will be with you. The essential word here is 'may' - "May the force be with you."

"If this were to happen," or "May this happen!" or "I ask you to make this happen" are all possible uses of the subjunctive.

There are four subjunctives: present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect. There are no subjunctives in the future tense, which already incorporates an element of doubt.

The Present Subjunctive

[edit | edit source]

The present subjunctive is similar to the present indicative, except marked by a change of the theme vowel.

present stem + theme vowel change + ending

In the present subjunctive, the theme vowel for every conjugation changes; in effect, the first conjugation masquerades as the second conjugation and all the other conjugations take on the appearance of the first.

1st Conjugation a becomes e
2nd Conjugation e becomes ea
3rd Conjugation e becomes a
3rd -io and 4th i becomes ia

Some ways to remember this are in the following collapsed table.

Example Conjugation

[edit | edit source]

porto, portare, portavi, portatus (1st conjugation - to carry)

Present Indicative

[edit | edit source]

This is the present active indicative form of portāre, which has already been covered.

singular plural
1st portō portāmus
2nd portās portātis
3rd portat portant

Remember the join vowels.

Present Subjunctive

[edit | edit source]

The present active subjunctive of portare would be conjugated as follows:

singular plural
1st portem portēmus
2nd portēs portētis
3rd portet portent


  • The -ā- vowel stem has changed to an -ē-.
  • The personal endings -m, -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt are used, as is done for regular indicative verbs.

Present Subjunctive of Esse

[edit | edit source]

The present active subjunctive of sum, esse, the verb "to be", is conjugated as follows:

singular plural
1st sim sīmus
2nd sīs sītis
3rd sit sint

Unlike the conjugation of the present active indicative form, the present subjunctive is regular. The same personal endings are affixed to si-.

Present Subjunctive of Posse
[edit | edit source]
singular plural
1st possim possīmus
2nd possīs possītis
3rd possit possint

Translates as "May I/you/he/we/you/they be able"

Imperfect Subjunctive

[edit | edit source]

The imperfect subjunctive is formed by adding the personal endings -m, -s, -t, -mus, -tis, -nt or the passive endings -r, -ris, -tur, -mur, -mini, -ntur to the present infinitive active (often the second principal part). In other words, for

vocō, vocāre, vocāvī, vocātum

The imperfect subjunctives are formed thus:

singular plural
1st vocārem vocārēmus
2nd vocārēs vocārētis
3rd vocāret vocārent

For deponent verbs, whose second principal part is the passive infinitive (e.g., cōnārī, verērī, patī, expedīrī) a pseudo present infinitive is used (e.g, cōnāre, verēre, patere, expedīre; although these forms do not exist as stand-alone infinitives, they actually ARE the singular imperatives for these deponent verbs)

The imperfect subjunctive of the verb to be (sum, esse) is conjugated regularly, as are ALL irregular verbs, e.g.: possem, vellem, nollem, ferrem, irem)

singular plural
1st essem essēmus
2nd essēs essētis
3rd esset essent

Uses of the Subjunctive

[edit | edit source]

Verbs in the subjunctive mood may assume special meaning in specific constructions.

Volitive or Optative Clauses

[edit | edit source]

Subjunctives in independent clauses are often translated as volitive/optative (that is, as a wish). Volitives/optatives show an intention for an action to occur; e.g. "amet" may be translated in volitive/optative context as "may he love"


[edit | edit source]

A suggestion or command in first person (most often plural); e.g. "cedamus" as an hortatory subjunctive is "let us depart"


[edit | edit source]

A suggestion or command in third person; e.g. "cedat" as a jussive subjunctive is "let her depart"; "deprehendatur"= "Let him be seized"


[edit | edit source]

The potential or possibility of something happening, in any person: (Fortasse) te amem. "Perhaps I may love you."

All of these Subjunctive types can be used in an independent (main) clause. Note that all can be translated with "let" or "may"; the differences lie in how English will represent the subjunctive verb:

  • Volitive (Wish): May we be friends forever!
  • Hortatory (Suggestion): Let us be friends!
  • Jussive (Command): Let them be friends!
  • Potential (Possibility): They may be friends; we may be friends; you may be friends.

Purpose Clauses

[edit | edit source]

A purpose clause is a dependent clause used, as the name shows, to show purpose. Often initiated by an indicative verb, the clause contains a subjunctive verb in either the present or imperfect tense. Present and imperfect verbs in purpose clauses should be translated with the auxiliary verbs "may" and "might," respectively. For example, "Marcus urbem condidit ut regeret" should be translated as "Marcus built the city so that he would rule." These appear frequently in Latin.

Relative Clauses

[edit | edit source]

A relative clause is an independent clause introduced by a relative pronoun. When the verb of a relative clause is in the subjunctive mood the clause may express result, purpose, or characteristic.

  • Result: The field is so large that he could not plow it in one day.
  • Purpose: He sent envoys who would pacify the city.
  • Characteristic: Who is so ill-prepared who would fight without a shield?