Grammar For IELTS: The Subjunctive Form

The Subjunctive Form

We use the subjunctive form in certain fixed expressions and after some verbs and adjectives which express the idea of necessity, importance, etc. The subjunctive form can be used to refer to events and situations in the past, present or future. We use it mostly in formal and literary language.


  • Subject 1 + Verb (any tense) + that + Subject 2 + Verb (bare infinitive)
  • It + be (any tense) + adjective + that + subject + verb (bare infinitive)

Verb: suggest, insist, require, recommend, propose, command, demand, request, acknowledge, know, etc
Adjective: advisable, anxious, desirable, eager, essential, important, necessary, preferable, vital, willing

The subjunctive is used in reported speech, very formal language (e.g. regulations, legal documents) and in poetry. In the Writing task 2 part for the IELTS test, you can make use of the subjunctive form to have a flow of academic writing and get a high score in Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

The subjunctive form is the same as the infinitive (without to). It does not show any marking for tense and can be used to refer to events in the past, present or future. We use it most often in that clauses after certain verbs (e.g. advise, ask, demand, insist, propose, recommend, request, suggest, know), and after adjectives (e.g. advisable, anxious, desirable, eager, essential, important, necessary, preferable, vital, willing), to express the idea that something is necessary or important:

  • At yesterday’s hearing the judge insisted (that) Mr Grant give evidence despite his relationship to the accused.
  • In future cases, it will be vital that each party give full disclosure prior to trial.
  • The doctor suggested that Tom stop smoking.
  • I demand that I be allowed to be free now.
  • She insisted that she pay her own way.
  • We require that all receipts be submitted to the committee for approval.
  • I know not whether laws be right. Or whether laws be wrong. (Oscar Wilde)

We can use passive and negative forms of the subjunctive:

  • Members of the committee suggested England be excluded from future international tournaments.
  • Regulations require that officers not enter the crime scene without protective clothing.

The verb be has an alternative subjunctive form were which is sometimes called the past subjunctive and is used to talk about the imagined present or future and in conditionals


  • Subject 1 + Verb (any tense) + that + Subject 2 + Should  Verb 
  • It + be (any tense) + adjective + that + subject + should infinitive | or It + be(any tense) + adjective + for + subject + to + infinitive

As the use of the subjunctive is rather formal or literary in British English (it is less formal and more common in US English). British English speakers prefer to use should + infinitive or the forms listed below in most situations:

  • It is vital that every applicant complete the form in triplicate, (subjunctive)
    It is vital that every applicant should complete the form in triplicate. (should + infinitive)
    It is vital for every applicant to complete the form in triplicate, [for + subject + to + infinitive)


There are some fixed expressions which use subjunctive forms:

  •  If he doesn’t want to see us. then so be it. (= then let it happen)
  • Bless you!
  • Long live the republic!
  • There’s very little chance of winning this case.’ Be that as it may. I’m not going to give up fighting.’ (= Whether that is true or not, I’m not …)
  • I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if need be. (= if this is necessary)


Exercise 1.  Circle the correct answer A, B, C or D.
1. The boys proposed that their group leader……………a camping trip.
A. organized B. organize C. organizes D. organizing
2. The teacher demanded that Tom……………….the room.
A. leave B. leaves C. has to leave D. leaving
3. It was urgent that she……..the robbery to the police immediately.
A. reported B. reports C. report D. must report
4. “What instructions did your boss give you?” – “He requires that Alice……………..the meeting.”
A. would attend B. attends C. attended D. attend
5. “What is your opinion?” – “It is necessary that an employee…………….his work on time.”
A. finish B. finishes C. can finish D. to finish
6. Dan’s parents insist that he……………home every week.
A. must call B. call C. called D. has to call
7. It is essential that she…………the truth about her illness.
A. tell B. tells C. is told D. be told
8. The director requests that all packages…………… the central office.
A. send B. be send C. be sent D. are sent

Exercise 2.
Study the following extracts. Two of them use appropriate language but four of them use forms which have an incorrect degree of formality. Tick (√) the two correct extracts and rewrite the remaining four using subjunctives (note you may need to use passive forms).

grammar for ielts the subjunctive form

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Written By

Nafia Zuhana is an experienced content writer and IELTS Trainer. Currently, she is guiding students who are appearing for IELTS General and Academic exams through With an 8.5 score herself, she trains and provides test takers with strategies, tips, and nuances on how to crack the IELTS Exam. She holds a degree in Master of Arts – Creative Writing, Oxford Brookes University, UK. She has worked with The Hindu for over a year as an English language trainer.

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