Indicative Mood (Verbs)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

indicative mood
In the film Laura (1944), these remarks by Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb) are in the indicative mood. (John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

In traditional English grammar, indicative mood is the form—or mood—of the verb used in ordinary statements: stating a fact, expressing an opinion, asking a question. The majority of English sentences are in the indicative mood. Also called (primarily in 19th-century grammars) indicative mode.

In modern English, as a result of the loss of inflections (word endings), verbs are no longer marked to indicate mood. As Lise Fontaine points out in Analysing English Grammar: A Systemic Functional Introduction (2013), "The third-person singular in the indicative mood [marked by -s] is the only remaining source of mood indicators."

There are three major moods in English: the indicative mood is used to make factual statements or pose questions, the imperative mood to express a request or command, and the (rarely used) subjunctive mood to show a wish, doubt, or anything else contrary to fact.

From the Latin, "stating"

Examples and Observations (Film Noir Edition)

  • "The mood of the verb tells us in what manner the verb is communicating the action. When we make basic statements or ask questions, we use the indicative mood, as in I leave at five and Are you taking the car? The indicative mood is the one we use most often."
    (Ann Batko, When Bad Grammar Happens to Good People. Career Press, 2004)
  • "I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom."
    (Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe, Murder, My Sweet, 1944)
  • "I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings."
    (Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, The Big Sleep, 1946)
  • Joel Cairo: You always have a very smooth explanation.
    Sam Spade: What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?
    (Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart as Joel Cairo and Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, 1941)
  • "There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you’re penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be known to the world. Or you can kill him."
    (Edward G. Robinson as Professor Richard Wanley, The Woman in the Window, 1944)
  • Betty Schaefer: Don't you sometimes hate yourself?
    Joe Gillis: Constantly.
    (Nancy Olson and William Holden as Betty Schaefer and Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard, 1950)
  • "She liked me. I could feel that. The way you feel when the cards are falling right for you, with a nice little pile of blue and yellow chips in the middle of the table. Only what I didn’t know then was that I wasn’t playing her. She was playing me, with a deck of marked cards . . .."
    (Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, Double Indemnity, 1944)
  • "Personally, I’m convinced that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young."
    (Eve Arden as Ida Corwin, Mildred Pierce, 1945)
  • The Traditional Moods
    "The labels indicative, subjunctive, and imperative were applied to verb forms in traditional grammars, such that they recognized 'indicative verb forms,' 'subjunctive verb forms,' and 'imperative verb forms.' Indicative verb forms were said to be true by the speaker ('unmodalized' statements) . . .. [I]t is better to regard mood as a non-inflectional notion. . . . English principally grammatically implements mood through the use of clause types or modal auxiliary verbs. For example, rather than say that speakers use indicative verb forms to make assertions, we will say that they typically use declarative sentences to do so."
    (Bas Aarts, Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Indicative and the Subjunctive
    "Historically, the verbal category of Mood was once important in the English language, as it still is today in many European languages. By distinct forms of the verb, older English was able to discriminate between the Indicative Mood—expressing an event or state as a fact, and the Subjunctive—expressing it as a supposition. . . . Nowadays the Indicative Mood has become all-important, and the Subjunctive Mood is little more than a footnote in the description of the language."
    (Geoffrey Leech, Meaning and the English Verb, 3rd ed., 2004; rpt. Routledge, 2013) 

Pronunciation: in-DIK-i-tiv mood

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Nordquist, Richard. "Indicative Mood (Verbs)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Indicative Mood (Verbs). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Indicative Mood (Verbs)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).