Using Subjunctive on the GMAT

by on September 13th, 2015

Grammar_verbalNot many people have even heard of the subjunctive mood in English. However, the GMAT test makers have! Here’s a quick review to get you up to speed.

1. What is the subjunctive?

Consider the following sentence: I insist that you are on time. This sounds quite good to me, as it would to most native speakers. However, it is not correct. On the GMAT, there is a category of verb that requires the use of the subjunctive. These are verbs that command, order, require, suggest or demand. You will see the verb “insist” fits into this category, as it describes an order. Also notice the use of “that” after the verb.

2. The form of the subjunctive

The subjunctive uses the base, or V1, form of the verb. This can be obtained by taking the infinitive of the verb, and eliminating the “to.” The verb in our example sentence is “are.” The infinitive of this verb is “to be”. Eliminate the “to.” The correct sentence therefore becomes: I insist that you be on time.

The subjunctive is easier to spot when the sentence is in the 3rd person singular, or when the verb is irregular. Consider the following sentence: I suggest that you drink water. This is actually a subjunctive, but you don’t notice it, because the second person singular “drink” is the same as the subjunctive “drink.” However, consider this sentence: I suggest that she drink water. Now the subjunctive is easier to spot. It is also crucial that instead of eliminating an answer choice when one thinks there is a subject verb non agreement, that one check whether there is a reason for such a construction, for instance perhaps the sentence is in the subjunctive!

3. A second use of the subjunctive

The second use of the subjunctive in the GMAT is that involving impersonal statements, or the sorts of sentences you may see written in a newspaper. For example, sentences starting with “it is essential that … ,” “it is necessary that … ,” or “it is vital that … .” These sentences require a subjective. Notice again the use of “that” in the subjunctive sentence. An example could be: It is essential that he bring a book.

These subjunctive sentences are just another example of the test makers using something that doesn’t sound quite right, yet is correct, in order to make the test taker trip up.

This post appeared first on the Economist GMAT Tutor blog.

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