The most controversial category –Mood

The category of Mood is the most controversial category of the verb.

B.A. Ilyish: " The category of mood in the present English verb has given rise to so many discussions, and has been treated in so many different ways, that it seems hardly possible to arrive at any more less convincing and universally acceptable conclusion concerning it."

The category of Mood expresses the relations between the action, denoted by the verb, and the actual reality from the point of view of the speaker. The speaker may treat the action/event as real, unreal or problematic or as fact that really happened, happens or will happen, or as an imaginary phenomenon.

It follows from this that the category of Mood may be presented by the opposition

obligue mood - direct mood

= unreality = reality.

The former is the strong member.

The latter is the weak member.

Mood relates the verbal action to such conditions as certainty, obligation, necessity, and possibility.

The most disputable question in the category of mood is the problem of number and types of Oblique Moods. Oblique Moods denote unreal or problematic actions so they can't be modified by the category of tense proper. They denote only relative time, that is simultaneousness or priority. Due to the variety of forms it's impossible to make up regular paradigms of Oblique Moods and so classify them.

Some authors pay more attention to the plane of expression, other to the plane of content. So different authors speak of different number and types of moods. The most popular in Grammar has become the system of moods put forward By Prof. Smirnitsky. He speaks of 6 mood forms:

The Indicative Mood

The Imperative Mood

Subjunctive I

Subjunctive II

The Conditional Mood

The Suppositional Mood

Subjunctive I expresses a problematic action. Subjunctive I is used in American English and in newspaper style. Subjunctive I coincides with the Infinitive without the particle to. Ex.: Ring me up if he would be there.

This mood is expressed in English to a very minor extent (e.g.: So be it then!). It is only used in certain set expressions, which have to be learned as wholes:

Come what may, we will go ahead.

God save the Queen!

Suffice it to say that...

Be that as it may...

Heaven forbid that...

So be it then.

Long live the King!

Grammar be hanged!

This Mood is also used in that clauses, when the main clause contains an expression of recommendation, resolution, demand, etc. The use of this subjunctive I occurs chiefly in formal style (and especially in Am E) where in less other devices, such as to - infinitive or should = infinitive.

It is necessary that he be there.

It is necessary that he should be there.

It is necessary for him to be there.

Subjunctive II denotes an unreal action and it coincides in the form with the Past Indefinite Tense (Subjunctive II Present) or Past Perfect (Subjunctive II Past). Ex.: I wish he had told the truth. If only he were here!

Mood is expressed in English to a much greater extent by past tense forms. E.g.:

If you taught me, I would learn quickly.

If she was/were to do smth like that.

He spoke to me as if I was/ were deaf...

I wish I was/were was


1) “Was” is more common in less formal style

2) Only “were” is acceptable in "As it were" (= so to speak)

3) “Were” is usual in "If I were you".

The Conditional Mood denotes an unreal action and is built by the auxiliary verb "world" + any Infinitive a non-perfect infinitive expresses simultaneousness while a perfect infinitive expresses priority. E.g.: But for the rain we would go for a walk. But for the rain we would have gone...

The Suppositional Mood also expresses a problematic action and is formed with the help of the auxiliary verb "should" for all the persons + Infinitive. E.g.: Ring me up if he should be there.

This mood can be used with any verb in subordinate that - clauses when the main clause contains an expression of recommendation resolution, demand etc. (demand, require, insist, suggest...) E.g.: It is necessary that every member should inform himself of these rules = It is necessary for every member to inform... It is strange that he should have left so early.

Subjunctive I and the Suppositional Mood are differentiated only by their form but their meaning is the same.

Taking into consideration the fact that the forms of the Oblique Moods coincide in many cases with the forms of the Indicative Mood, there arises a problem of homonymy or polysemy. E.g.: He lived here. (The indicative Mood, Past Tense, Priority, real action).

If only he lived! (Subjunctive II, simultaneousness, unreal action)

The meaning of each necessary grammatical abstraction makes itself clear only in the course of its usage.

Compare also the following patterns with the verb should:

Had I known about it, I should have comeyesterday. (should + Infinitive II used with reference to a non-fact).

That science in the USSR should have attainedso high a level of development is but natural (should + Infinitive II expressing a real action in the past with special emphasis laid upon its realisation).

The variety of meaning as potentially implicit in a grammatical form, we naturally associate with the development of synonymy in grammar.

Synonymy in Grammar

Synonymic forms in grammar are not exactly alike, they commonly have fine shares of difference in style and purpose, and students need to be alive to these differences. There is always selection in the distribution of grammatical forms in actual speech. They must harmonise with the context as appropriate to a given situation.

The change in synonymous grammatical forms is often a change in style, and the effect on the reader is quite different. Even a slight alteration in the grammatical device can subtly shift the meaning of the utterance. Examine the following sentence:

"... Have you been wounding him?"

"It is my misfortune to be obliged to wound him", said Clara.

"Quite needlessly, my child, for marry him you must".(Dreiser)

Ellen had wrung her hands and counseled delay, in order that Scarlett might think the matter over at greater length. But to her pleadings, Scarlett turned a sullen face and a deaf ear. Marry she would!And quickly, too. Within two weeks. (Mitchell)

Cf.: Marry she would! and She would marry.

We cannot fail to see that there is a marked difference in style between the two verb forms: the former is neutral, the latter is highly expressive.


"But, no matter when her foot healed she would walk to Jonesboro. It would be the longest walk she had ever taken in her life, but walkit she would". (Mitchell)

Cf.: walk it she would she would walk it

As synonyms in grammar express different shades of the grammatical meaning, one should be careful in the choice of the right forms, the best to convey the subtler nuances of that meaning.

Knowledge of synonymic differentiation between the grammatical forms permits a systematic, objective investigation and description of style.

With regard to the methodology employed in our description of synonymy in grammar there are certain observations which are pertinent tо a summary statement. It will be helpful to distinguish between a) paradigmatic synonyms and b) contextual synonyms or synonyms by function in speech.

In English morphology synonyms of the first group are very few in number. Such are, for instance, synthetical and analytical forms in the Subjunctive and Suppositional Mood, e. g.:

...'I now move, that the report and accounts for the year 1886 be received and adopted". (Galsworthy)

(be received and adopted = should be received and adopted)

Paradigmatic synonyms with similarity in function and structural features may also be exemplified by the following:


Non-emphatic Emphatic
  Present Indefinite
I know I do know
He knows He does know
  Past indefinite
I knew I did know
  Imperative Mood
Come Do come


Analytical verbal forms with the intensive do can express a whole variety of subjective modal meanings: pleasure, admiration, affection, surprise, anger, mild reproach, encouragement, admonition, etc., e. g.

Oh! darling, don't ache! I do so hate it for you. (Galsworthy) There was so much coming and going round the doors that they did not like to enter. Where does he live? I did see him coming out of the hotel. (Galsworthy)

Eagerly her eyes searched the darkness. The roof seemed to be intact. Could it be could it be ? No, it wasn't possible. War stopped for no-thing, not even Tara, built to last five hundred years. It could not have passed over Tara. Then the shadowy outline did take form. The white walls did show there through the darkness. Tara had escaped. Home! (Mitchell)

But Swithin, hearing the name Irene, looked severely at Euphemia, who, it is true, never did look well in a dress, whatever she may have done on other occasions. (Galsworthy)

Strong emphasis is also produced by using pleonastic patterns with segmentations, e. g.: He never did care for the river, did Montmorency. (Jerome)

As we have already said, there are no absolute synonyms in grammar. Synonymic forms will generally differ either in various shades of the common grammatical meaning, expressive connotation or in stylistic value. The former may be referred to as relative synonyms, the latter as stylistic ones.

Further examples of paradigmatic synonyms will be found among the so-called periphrastic forms of the English verb.

Relatively synonymous are, for instance, the Future Indefinite tense-forms and the periphrastic "to be going to" future. A simple affirmative statement of intention with no external circumstances mentioned (time, condition, reason, etc.) is generally expressed by the periphrastic form. When a future action depends on the external circumstances the "to be going to" is rare. Cf.:

1. a) He will sell his house, (rare)

b) He's going to sell his house. (normal)

2. a) He'll sell it if you ask him. (normal)

b) He is going to sell it if you ask him. (rare) 1

To be going to with a personal subject implies a much stronger intention than the Future Tense with shall/will does.

Patterns with the passive auxiliaries be and get will also illustrate grammatical synonyms of the first type.

The passive forms in Modern English are represented by analytic combinations of the auxiliary verb to be with the past participle of the conjugated verb. The verb to get can also function as an auxiliary of the passive, e. g.: (1) My dress got caught on a nail. (2) He got struck by a stone. these are not new usages, but ones which are spreading.

To get seems closer to the true passive auxiliary be in patterns like the following: She got blamed for everything. She gets teased by the other children.

The stabilisation of lexico-grammatical devices to indicate the aspective character of the action has also contributed to the development of synonymy in Modern English.

A special interest attaches to contextual synonyms on the grammatica1 level created through transposition of related grammatical forms, Neutralisation of the distinctive features of the opposed grammatical forms leads to situational synonymy. Here are a few examples to illustrate the statement:

(1) Are you comingto the PPRS Board on Tuesday? (Galsworthy) (The Supposition Present — Future is neutralised; Are you coming? is synonymus with Will you come?)


(2) Whom do you think I travelled with? Fleur Mont. We ran up against each other at Victoria. She's takingher boy to boring next week to convalesce him. (Galsworthy) (She's taking = she will take)

A special interest attaches to contextual synonyms on the grammatica1 level created through transposition of related grammatical forms, Neutralisation of the distinctive features of the opposed grammatical forms leads to situational synonymy. Here are a few examples to illustrate the statement:

(1) Are you comingto the PPRS Board on Tuesday? (Galsworthy) (The Supposition Present — Future is neutralised; Are you coming? is synonymus with Will you come?)


(2) Whom do you think I travelled with? Fleur Mont. We ran up against each other at Victoria. She's takingher boy to boring next week to convalesce him. (Galsworthy) (She's taking = she will take)

Present Continuous and Present Indefinite may function as situational synonyms in cases like the following:

(3)Dicky! said James. You arealways wasting money on something. (Galsworthy) (You are always wasting is synonymous with You always waste).

(4)She iscontinually imaginingdangers when they do not exist. (She is imagining = she imagines).

(5)June read: Lake Okanagen. British Columbia, I'm not comingback to England. Bless you always.John. (Galsworthy) (I'm not coming = = I shall not come).

(6)Fleur huddled her chin in her fur. It was easterly and cold. A voice behind her said: Well, Fleur, am I goingEast? (Galsworthy) Cf. Am I going East? = Shall I go East?



In this essay we have tried to prove that although ideational content is certainly an important aspect of linguistic communication, it is a mistake to regard clarity of referential meaning as a master skill, in two ways. First it is an error to assume that all other words serve at the pleasure of communicating speaker’s intended semantic reference; and second, it is an error to assume that all meaningful linguistic action has clarity of referential meaning as its central goal, or that only messages with clear referential content are in some sense communicative. Polysemy, ambiguity, synonymy often helps achieve a communicational goal.

No doubt this strikes many readers as obvious. And yet, while we might say that in the Western intellectual tradition they have always been recognized as an inevitable feature of natural languages, we might say with more conviction that they have usually been recognized as a problem. Sometimes they break clear transmission of thought from a speaker to an audience and only undermine meaning.

But we propose two things: first, that ambiguity may in fact be productive of understanding and not simply destructive of it; and second, that what we take as discourse forms transparent to their ideational referents often are not. This approach calls for reconsidering what we might mean when we speak of “understanding.” Usually, understanding is taken to mean recognition of the cognitive content of an utterance. We might well supplement this with a less technical idea which, at the moment, we can only call “getting it.”

When we think about linguistic communication as a multi-channel embodied participatory experience, our focus shifts to features of contextualized practice that are multimodal, multivocal, and lean more heavily on non-propositional features of communication—features that have complicated relationships to the preservation or presentation of clear referential content. The general sense in the Western tradition has been that words organize propositional content into more pleasing form—“good ideas, well expressed,” the melding of form and content. But perhaps expressions work independently of propositionality, sometimes aiding, sometimes undermining, sometimes stepping into the breach where propositionality finds itself at a loss for words.



1. Арнольд И.В. Лексикология современного английского языка.: учебник для ин-тов и фак. иностр. языка.- 3-е издание, перераб и доп.- М.: Высшая школа, 1986.- 295с.

2. Блох М.Я. Теоретическая грамматика английского языка.: Учебник для студентов филол.фак. ун-тов и фак.. англ.яз. педвузов.-М.: Высшая школа, 1983.- 383.

3. Ильин Б.Я.. Строй современного английского языка.:Учебник по курсу теор.грамматики для студ. педаг. Институтов.- издание второе.- Л.:Просвещение,1971.-365с.

4. Каушанская Л.В. Грамматика английского языка.: Учебник для студ. пед.институтов.- 4-е издание.- Л.: Просвещение,1973.- 319с.

5. Раевская Н.М.. Теоретическая грамматика современного английского языка.: Для студентов факультетов романо-германской филологии университетов и педагогических институтов иностранных языков (на английском языке).-К.: Высшая школа,1976.- 383с.

6. David Samuels. The agenda of ambiguity in expressive culture.- University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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