Definition and Examples of Major and Minor Moods in English Grammar

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In English grammar, mood is the quality of a verb that conveys the writer's attitude toward a subject. It is also known as mode and modality. In traditional grammar, there are three major moods:

  1. The indicative mood is used to make factual statements (the declarative) or pose questions, such as the interrogative.
  2. The imperative mood is used to express a request or command.
  3. The (comparatively rare) subjunctive mood is used to show a wish, doubt, or anything else contrary to fact.

In addition, there are several minor moods in English.

Major Moods in English

The indicative mood is the form of the verb used in ordinary statements: stating a fact, expressing an opinion, or asking a question. The majority of English sentences are in the indicative mood. It is also called (primarily in 19th-century grammar) indicative mode. An example would be this quote from writer, actor, and director Woody Allen:

"Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it's all over much too soon."

Here, Allen is expressing a statement of fact (at least in his interpretation). The word is shows that he is stating a fact as he sees it. The imperative mood, by contrast, is the form of the verb that makes direct commands and requests, such as "Sit still" and "Count your blessings." Another example would be this famous quote from President John F. Kennedy:

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

In this sentence, Kennedy was essentially giving a command to the American people. The subjunctive mood expresses wishes, stipulates demands, or makes statements contrary to fact, such as this line from the play, "Fiddler on the Roof":

"If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack."

In this sentence, Tevye, the main character, is expressing that he would have more time if he were rich (which, of course, he is not).

Minor Moods in English

In addition to the three major moods of English, there are also minor moods. A. Akmajian, R. Demers, A. Farmer, and R. Harnish, explain in "Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication" that minor moods are usually peripheral to communication, infrequently used, and vary widely.

One of the more common minor moods is a tag, a sentence, question, or declaration added to a declarative sentence. These include:

  • Tag declarative: "You've been drinking again, haven't you."
  • Tag imperative: "Leave the room, will you!"

Other examples of minor moods are:

  • Pseudo-imperative: "Move or I'll shoot!"
  • Alternative question: a type of question (or interrogative) that offers the listener a closed choice between two or more answers: "Does John resemble his father or his mother?" (In this sentence, there is a rising intonation on father and falling intonation on mother.)
  • Exclamative: a sudden, forceful expression or cry. "What a nice day!"
  • Optative: a category of grammatical mood that expresses a wish, hope, or desire, "May he rest in peace."
  • "One more" sentence: "One more beer and I'll leave."
  • Curse: a pronouncement of ill fortune. "You are a pig!"